Monday, 10 August 2020

ZBW Radio broadcasting under fire - December 1941

ZBW Radio broadcasting under fire in the Battle for Hong Kong

In 1941, the radio set, or wireless,  occupied a central position in every home. It was still a  relatively new phenomenon. Radio broadcasting in Hong Kong started in 1928. The local radio station was known as ZBW. The name changed to Radio Hong Kong in 1948. ZBW would re-broadcast programmes from the BBC Empire Service. The BBC news would start with the announcement 'Daventry Calling'. The transmitters were located on Borough Hill near the Northamptonshire village of Daventry. The radio made Daventry famous. The radio programme was published in the daily newspapers. The ZBW service started broadcasting at 12:15 p.m. with a 'short service of intercession' which infers some sort of morning prayers. The programme would include sessions for Chinese, Portuguese and Indians. Dance music was always popular and of course the news bulletins. There would be a break in the afternoon, and when programming closed in the evening the national anthem would be played. 

Source:  © Eric Shackle Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation

My thanks to Eric Shackle and Radio Heritage Foundation for allowing me to use the above ZBW photographs which date back to 1934. The first photograph going from left to right shows the grand piano in the ZBW Broadcasting Studio in the Gloucester Hotel Building.  The centre photograph shows one of the transmitter stations and tower which I think must be at Cape D'Aguilar.  The third photograph, on the right, shows the Marconi transmitter equipment used by ZBW.

In 1941, civilian wireless services were the responsibility of the Post Office Engineering Branch which was under the supervision of Richard Morris, a Canadian national. He was interned at Stanley Camp and repatriated with other Canadian internees in September 1943. On reaching Ottawa, he submitted a report on the wireless services in Hong Kong during the period of hostilities from 8 to 25 December. Wireless services were provided for:

Broadcasting (ZBW Radio)

Aeronautical  (Kai Tal Airport)


Meteorological (Observatory)

Water Police (Police launches)


Hospitals (X-Rays and radiotherapy)

Commercial usage (Cable & Wireless) 

Remote-controlled radio transmitters were located at Cape D'Aguilar on HK Island  (7 transmitters), and at Hung Hom in Kowloon (13 transmitters). At Hung Hom three of the transmitters were used for radio broadcasting. The broadcasting transmitters could be controlled from the ZBW broadcasting studio in the Gloucester Building. All transmitters could be controlled if necessary from the GPO Building in the central district. One of the broadcasting transmitters at Hung Hom was taken across by lighter and installed at Causeway Bay just before the evacuation of Kowloon. The Hung Hom Station was then evacuated on Friday 12 December 1941 on the orders of the Postmaster-General, Edward Wynne-Jones. The main receiving station was at the Peak. Received programmes, like the news from London or dance music, which were to be re-broadcast on ZBW were relayed to the Gloucester Building studios. 

The newly installed transmitter at Causeway Bay (from Hung Hom) started transmitting programmes for ZBW on December 15 1941. However, this immediately attracted Japanese artillery fire who had access to radio direction finding equipment. Chinese programmes were being transmitted from the Kennedy Road station and European programmes from the Causeway Bay station.

John Stericker, an employee of British American Tobacco had been a part-time announcer/presenter for ZBW before the war began. During the battle, he focused on his broadcasting role as this was considered important for the morale of the besieged colony. He was based at the ZBW studio on the 7th floor of the Gloucester Building which also housed the Gloucester Hotel. The iconic Hong Kong Hotel, known as the Grips, was linked to the Gloucester Hotel by way of a covered shopping arcade.

The Gloucester Hotel Building

Following the evacuation of the mainland which was completed on Saturday 13 December 1941, John Stericker introduced Sir Mark Young, the Governor, to the ZBW microphone. He made a brief radio address confirming that the mainland had been evacuated and that British forces had retired to the island fortress. The Island then came under a massive bombardment from Japanese artillery and aerial bombing. 

On 16 December, shelling around the Causeway Bay transmitting station severed the control lines from the studio and programmes could not be broadcast that evening. The Public Works Department (PWD) was inundated and were not able to restore the control lines. On 17 December, with the lines still down, John Stericker and some technical staff moved to the Causeway Bay transmitting station - an area that was under heavy fire. 

A technician and myself were sent out in a highly conspicuous  post office van, painted bright red, during a lull in the bombardment. ... The streets were a mass of shell holes while overhead, the smoke pall from burning petrol tanks hung over the town. ... When we arrived at our objective, we found a small concrete building in one half of which was a generator and in the other a microphone and control board. We managed to start up the generator and get trhe transmitter going. ... Somebody had forgotten to provide black-out curtains. Fortunately we had dimmed electric torches and struggled along with these, playing a portable gramaphone into the speech-microphone.(1)

As dusk descended Japanese shelling commenced around the station. This is how Morris described it.

PWD unable to promise the early restoration of damaged cables. Steps, therefore, were taken to establish local control at the station itself. A dance-band microphone and amplifier were requisitioned from a cafe and installed together with a gramophone turntable ... An announcer [John Stericker] was brought by car with a supply of records, and the programme was radiated on time. As I was anxious not to miss the usual broadcast of Daventry news, which was considered very desirable for local morale, I installed a short-wave receiver taken from my own residence.(2)

Stericker remembers Morris turning up with the domestic radio receiver set which he placed near the microphone. As the time for the news from Daventry approached, Stericker announced that ZBW was now taking its listeners over to London for the news.

'Over to London' consisted of seizing the radio set and pushing it in front of the microphone. ... It was with some relief that we heard the BBC announcer come to the end of what seemed the longest news bulletin in history. ... I mention this small incident because it was an actual broadcast under fire, with audible shell-bursts.(1) 

The next day the Japanese landed on Hong Kong Island and the Causeway Bay station had to be abandoned. After this, the only remaining transmitter was the station in Kennedy Road. This station also came under shell fire and received several direct hits but apart from the aerial being shot away the transmitting equipment was undamaged. Every time the transmitter was switched on, it attracted Japanese fire. 

When the shelling was particularly severe, a technician would start up the apparatus and depart quickly, returning to shut it down at the end of the programme.(2)

The Kennedy Road station had no generator and when the electricity supply ceased so did transmissions from that station. However, up until the capitulation ZBK continued to broadcast, as described below by Richard Morris.

From the cessation of broadcasting, at Kennedy Road to the day of occupation, a programme of music and the Daventry news programmes were transmitted by local power from the studios to Government house by line. Mr Arthur Lay played the piano for some of these final transmissions.(2)  

Daventry calling - Daventry calling. This is the news.


The mystery surrounding Frank Kekewick Garton 

Cape D'Aguilar is a remote place situated at the south-eastern extremity of Hong Kong Island. The Post Office Engineering Branch looked after the seven transmitters at the D'Aguilar Radio Transmitting Station. Near them were two coastal defence batteries, Fort Bokhara with two 9.2-inch guns, and Fort D'Aguilar with two 4-inch guns. There were some beach defence pillboxes nearby, and a Canadian infantry company was based at Windy Gap. On December 13 the Royal Navy took over three of the seven transmitters at D'Aguilar after their own Transmitting and Receiving Station on Stonecutters Island was destroyed by enemy action. 

RN Radio Station on Stonecutters (Source UKNA Files)  

On 19 December, GPO Engineer, Frank Garton, advised Richard Morris that the military were evacuating the Cape D'Aguilar coastal defence batteries. All military forces in the eastern sector of the Island had been ordered to withdraw to Stanley, but the civilians at the radio transmitting station had been forgotten about. According to the report by  Morris, Head of GPO Engineering Branch, Garton was in charge of the radio transmitting station at D'Aguilar. However, he is also listed as a Seaman Gunner in the HKRNVR and he was incarcerated in SSP Camp and later shipped to Japan on the ill-fated Lisbon Maru. He survived the sinking of the Lisbon Maru and the subsequent incarceration in Japan. What is unclear is why he was not incarcerated at Stanley Civilian Internment Camp with the rest of the GPO engineers given he was not in uniform and given he was working in a civilian capacity. 

He was instructed to evacuate the station, destroy the equipment and make his way to town. He was able to get hold of a car and he left the station with his European assistant Allan Harbottle who was later interned at Stanley Camp. Garton was accompanied by his wife and a Chinese amah. The Chinese staff at the station were told to disperse. The Japanese had landed on the island the previous night and troops in the eastern sector were in danger of being cut off. Garton was not told which areas were in Japanese control. He must have driven through Repulse Bay and then up Repulse Bay Road (the quickest way to town). However, by this stage, the Japanse had seized Wong Nai Chung (WNC) Gap. As Garton approached the gap they were ambushed by Japanese entrenched on the hillside around the police station on a knoll at the centre of the gap. Their car was machine-gunned and  Garton's wife was killed and the Chinese amah seriously wounded.  Morris' report says nothing more about it other than she was killed. The big question for readers: is what happened to Garton and Harbottle. Why did Harbottle end up in Stanley and Garton in SSP Camp? 

Commonwealth War Graves Commission data gives an incorrect date of death (28/12). We know she died on 19/12. The governor reported the death in a telegram to London dated 23/12.

When I first read S/Sgt Patrick Sheridan's diary for 19 December; I wondered who was the dead European women that he came across together with a badly injured Chinese lady in what he called the white house. The white house was, in fact, a villa called Holmesdale now simply known as No. 4 Repulse Bay Road.  The house still exists today. It is the white house shown in the photograph below Postbridge, the higher of the two houses. The backdrop is WNC Gap.

Sheridan went into the villa and found some fifteen wounded, mostly naval personnel, who had been ambushed as their trucks drove up the road earlier that morning. The same fate must have visited the Gartons.  Suddenly it clicked. The ladies described by Sheridan in the white house at WNC Gap were Mrs Garton and the Chinese amah. The Chinese amah had been shot through the chest. She either died of her wounds or was killed when the Japanese broke in and bayoneted all the wounded.  But what of Garton and Harbottle. Perhaps they were wounded and were evacuated by naval ambulance to Aberdeen and why is it that one was put in a military POW camp and the other in Stanley Civilian Camp and what actually happened to them after the ambush? 



1. A tear for the dragon (1958) John Stericker (p.128)

2. Report on activities of Post Office: Engineering Branch during the Battle of Hong Kong. UKNA  (CO 129/591/5)

Saturday, 2 May 2020

No. 1 Battery, HKVDC

The Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC) was mobilised following the declaration of a State of Emergency on Sunday 7 December 1941.  No. 1 Battery, HKVDC, was responsible for a battery of two 4-inch naval guns located on a hillside at Cape D’Aguilar on the south-eastern extremity of Hong Kong Island. The battery, known as D'Aguilar Battery, consisted of some 69 men and three officers. The senior ranks were as follows:

Captain George F. Rees, Commander Officer

Lt H.S. Jones, 2 i/c 

2/Lt Hugh G. Muir

Battery Sgt-Major John L. G. Oswald

Battery Quartermaster Sgt Michel J. Harkins

It was a coastal defence battery designed to engage enemy vessels rather than landward firing. The battery formed part of Eastern Fire Command along with other coastal defence batteries in the eastern sector of the Island, including Collinson (2 x 6-inch), Fort Bokhara (2 x 9.2-inch), Stanley (3 x 9.2-inch) and Chung Hom Kok (2 x 6-inch). Fort Bokhara was situated below and within a kilometre of D’Aguilar Battery. The large calibre 9.2-inch guns at Stanley and Bokhara were capable of traversing and firing inland. However, the bulk of the ammunition for the coastal defence batteries was armour piercing which was more suitable for the coastal defence role of firing at seaborne targets. There was insufficient anti-personnel (shrapnel) and high explosive (H.E.) ammunition for landward firing. 
   On Sunday 7 December, the battery personnel were ordered to report to HKVDC HQ at Garden Road. They were issued with rifles, ammunition and grenades. At 1700 hours they set off for their battery position in trucks.  It took an hour along the narrow roads to reach the battery at D’Aguilar. Equipment had to be man-handled to the battery position above Cape D'Aguilar Road. The next morning Monday 8 December, the war started. The battery personnel were mustered at 0800 hours and informed that war had started.

Battery Observation Post at Bokhara 9.2-inch Battery
The period from 8 December until 19 December was relatively uneventful for No. 1 Battery. Some Japanese vessels were spotted but they were well out of range. The nearby Bokhara Battery fired some rounds at Japanese vessels at extreme range. The guns at Bokhara were also used extensively for landward firing at Japanse troops on the Mainland. Generally, the Japanese Navy stayed well back because of the array of coastal defence batteries, contact and remote-controlled mines and the presence of British MTBs. 
   The D’Aguilar Battery manned by No. 1 Battery, HKVDC, also included a Fire Command Post and a Fortress Observation Post, manned by the regular Army, in addition to the two 4-inch gun emplacements and BOP manned by the Volunteers.

Battery Buildings at D'Aguilar 4-inch Battery
Possibly the Fortress Observation Post (FOP) at D'Aguilar Bty
During the night of Thursday 18 December, the Japanese landed, an estimated, 8,000 infantry and artillery on the northeast shore of the Island. The Japanese troops moved quickly inland, and by the mid-morning on Friday 19 December, there was a concern that troops and gun positions in the eastern sector of the Island may be cut off. Accordingly, a decision was made to withdraw all troops in the eastern sector to Stanley, and form a defensive perimeter in the hills around Stanley. Sgt Leslie Millington recalls that at 1000 hours they were ordered to put the guns out of action and withdraw.

At about 10 a.m., the Master-Gunner from the Fire Control Post below us came running up and gave orders to blow up our guns and retreat to Stanley Fort. … We marched most of the way and the chaps who had cars ran a shuttle service to and fro. When we arrived at Stanley Fort we were put to work digging trenches around the peninsula.

The trenches were on the south side of Stanley Fort and facing out to sea. The battery personnel manned these trenches at night and rested during daylight hours in Stanley Fort. The fort was subjected to aerial bombing and then artillery fire as the Japanese drew closer. The Japanese advanced on Stanley and the final, fierce battle for Stanley took place on 24/25 December. 
   On Wednesday 24 December, the battery personnel were moved from Stanley Fort to St Stephen's College, Stanley. They were to fight as infantry and man a support line.  Earlier that day Captain Rees took an advance party, consisting of a sergeant and four gunners down to the 1/Mx HQ at St Stephen’s Prep School. A regular officer showed them the positions that they were to occupy later that evening after nightfall. Their positions formed a second line of defence, or support line, between Stanley Village and the fort. The first line of defence ran across the peninsula from east to west with the police station at Stanley village being the centre of the line. The support line extended east-west across the grounds of St Stephens College.

Prison Officers Club - used as East Brigade HQ 
Sgt Harry Millington’s MG detachment was positioned on the right flank near the entrance to St Stephen's College on the Prison Road (Tung Tao Wan Road). His brother, Sgt Leslie Millington was positioned with his MG detachment some 100 metres to the left, closer to the college main building and the tennis courts. The remaining two detachments were spread out across the line of staff bungalows and Fort Road (Wong Ma Kok Road). Captain Rees established his HQ at one of the staff bungalows, possibly Bungalow ‘A’ since it was positioned at the centre of the line and had been vacated by Royal Rifles of Canada. They had used it briefly as Battalion HQ. 2/Lt Muir garrisoned Bungalow ‘C’ on the extreme left flank of the line.  The battle for Stanley Village began that night. The defenders on the support line could hear the cacophony of battle, artillery fire, machine-gun fire, grenade and mortar explosions as the Japanese using tanks and waves of infantry attacked the front line in Stanley Village. The front line was defended by No. 2 Coy, HKVDC, the Stanley Platoon, HKVDC, made up of prison officers many of whom were veterans of WW1. The Royal Artillery manned anti-tank guns and members of the Middlesex Regiment armed with Vickers machine guns manned a bungalow at the junction of the Prison Road and Fort Road. The senior officer in command was Major Forsyth commanding officer of No. 2 Coy, HKVDC. He was armed with a Tommy gun and positioned himself in the centre of the village. He was fatally wounded and carried into the police station. After fierce and close-quarter fighting the Japanese were able to break through on the flanks. The line broke and the survivors withdrew to the support line.  Sgt Leslie Millington and his brother Sgt Harry Millington heard the sound of running men coming along the Prison Road from the village.  These were followed by Japanese troops and Sgt Harry Millington opened fire at the Japanese on the road. Sgt Leslie Millington was soon in action as Japanese troops were seen advancing near the college tennis courts on which his detachment had a line of fire. The Japanese responded with machine-gun fire and mortar fire during which Gunner Eugene Yourieff was wounded by shrapnel from a mortar bomb. 
   The exchange of fire continued until around 0500 hours on Christmas Day. Japanese troops had infiltrated closer to Sgt Leslie Millington’s positions and were able to utilise an incendiary device (flame-thrower) which set fire to the machine gun and the nearby magazine area. With the Lewis gun now out of action, Millington gave orders to his men to withdraw to the right towards Sgt Harry Millington’s position on the Prison Road. When they regrouped after the withdrawal they found Gunner George Sloss was missing. It was later found that he had been captured.
   At dawn, a regular officer, from HQ at the Prison Officers Club, ordered Sgt Leslie Millington to go back to his previous position. By this time, they could hear Japanese at or near the main college building. The main building was being used as a Relief Military Hospital. The Japanese went in at dawn and in an unfettered rage, they killed a large number of patients and medical orderlies. Many of the patients were bayoneted as they lay in their beds. Two doctors were killed and European and Chinese nurses were raped and three of them were mutilated and killed. It was difficult for Millington to reoccupy his position. His detachment consisted of eight men armed only with rifles, and only one grenade between them. Their position was untenable on a level with the main college building. In the impending daylight, they would be easily seen by Japanese troops located in and around the main school building. Millington recalled their effort to reoccupy the position that they had manned the previous night.

I had to go, so with my chaps, I crept quietly up to the bank. … We peeped over the top onto the flat space, nobody was more surprised than we were to see about fifty Japanese sitting around having their chow. The grenade was thrown and, as I didn’t feel like leading a bayonet charge, we opened up a rapid rifle fire. The Japanese beat a hasty retreat to the other side of the flat area and began to lob grenades at us. They seemed to have an endless supply. We stayed like this, exchanging fire for about five minutes, and as I thought it was pretty hopeless I again ordered the lads to re-join Harry, which we did with the loss of another chap, Skinner.

In fact, Gunner Skinner was wounded but not killed. He was hospitalised but it is not clear where. He may have made his way back to the prison road and sought medical assistance at the Prison Hospital. St Stephens College Hospital was nearer but was occupied by Japanese troops. Sgt Leslie Millington re-joined his brother Sgt Harry Millington on the prison road. However, they were coming under sniper fire from the Annex one of the college buildings which overlooked the road.  They took shelter behind a bank on the road and returned fire. They lost two men from Sgt Harry Millington’s detachment, Gunner Sam Gerzo and Gunner Graham Lawson, during this exchange of fire.

Modified sketch map from Millington's Diary (IWM)
They decided to move back towards the prison. Sgt Harry Millington died whilst providing covering fire. Leslie Millington recalls bullets hitting the road behind him as he rushed towards the Prison Officer’s Club. The colony surrendered that afternoon. Those at the Prison Officer’s Club Building were notified of the surrender by either a dispatch rider or runner from Stanley Prison at around 1700 hours on 25 December.  They were ordered to leave their weapons and ammunition and walk down to Stanley Prison about 200 metres away. The volunteer and regular soldiers at the prison remained there until Saturday 27 December when they were taken to Stanley Fort to join the other surrendered military personnel from the Stanley area. On Monday 29 December they were marched from Stanley Fort through Tai Tam Gap to North Point where they started the three-and-half-year period of brutal incarceration. 
   In the course of the fighting at Stanley, the battery suffered 35 fatalities. A death rate of over 50% incurred within a 24-hour period.

Members of the Battery

Last NameFirst NameRankDate of Death
AlexanderWilliam LGnr24-Dec-41
AllenDouglas  GeoffreyGunner
BenuchLeonard  John Gunner
BlissArthur Sydney (Sonny)GNR25-Dec-41
ButlinStrathmore  TathamGnr25-Dec-41
Collins-TaylorDouglas HarleyL-Bdr25-Dec-41
Duffy Jocelyn TierneyGunner25-Dec-41
Engelbrecht Raymond JGunner
GerzoSamuel  DanielGunner25-Dec-41
GriffithsRonald  HannamGunner25-Dec-41
HarkinsMitchell JosephBQMS
HenningsenFrederick Forbes Gunner
HoLok Kee Gunner25-Dec-41
JohnsonLloyd  GeorgeGunner25-Dec-41
Johnson George EdwardSgt
JongeDe GillaesGunner
LanderJohn Gerard HeathGunner25-Dec-41
LawsonW  GrahamGunner25-Dec-41
LodgeCyril JohnGunner25-Dec-41
MackenzieNorman  HGunner
McCabeLawrence  HughGunner25-Dec-41
MillingtonLeslie CharlesSgt
MillingtonHenry  (Harry) JamesSgt25-Dec-41
MuirHugh Gordon2nd Lt25-Dec-41
NashRobert  CharlesGunner25-Dec-41
OswaldJohn Lee GuinnessBSM
PedersenKay  WGunner
PomeroyJohn  BernardGunner
ReesGeorge FrederickCaptWounded in action
RudrofWladyslaw PawelGunner25-Dec-41
Samuel  HerbertGunner25-Dec-41
SayersMax W Gunner25-Dec-41
SlossGeoff  DuncanGunner
SmithCharles  AGunner25-Dec-41
SmithJohn Reginald MartinGunner24-Dec-41
StoneGeoffrey  Paul L-Bdr25-Dec-41
SwanMalcolm McDonaldGunner
TseninEugene AlexesGunner
TuckerNorman FosterGunner
WalreeErik  VanGunner
WatsonRussell  A E Gunner
WellerFrederick Anthony ("Tony")Gunner
WyllieRoy LeslieGunner25-Dec-41
YourieffEugene  GGunner
Yung Yue Wang Gunner25-Dec-41

Millington's Diary held at IWM