Thursday, 1 October 2020

Donovan Benson - Manager of the Mercantile Bank of India

The 1941 Year Book shows Donovan Benson as the Manager of the Mercantile Bank of India in Hong Kong. A position he had held since 1937. The entry also lists three British expatriate staff working for the bank. These were William Hobbin, Barry Deane and Douglas Hamilton.  The Mercantile Bank was founded in India in 1853 and was originally known as the Mercantile Bank of India, London and China. The Head Office was in London, as was the case for the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China (now Standard Chartered). The Hongkong & Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) was headquartered in Hong Kong. HSBC, Chartered Bank and the Mercantile Bank were the three note-issuing banks in Hong Kong. The Chief Manager of HSBC, Sir Vandeleur Grayburn, was the most senior banker both in the Crown Colony and in the Far East. He would have interacted with Donovan Benson and Reginald Camidge the Managers of the Mercantile Bank and Chartered Bank. The Mercantile Bank was acquired in 1959 by HSBC. It remained a note-issuing bank in Hong Kong until 1974. Today HSBC and Standard Chartered Bank continue to act as note-issuing banks in Hong Kong and have been joined by the Bank of China since 1997.

Compulsory military service was introduced in Hong Kong during 1939 for British nationals.  A large number of Portuguese, Eurasian and Chinese volunteered to join the militia either the HKVDC or the HKRNVR although they were not compelled to do so. A number of the British expatriate staff in the banks were categorised as Essential Services and were required to remain with their banks in the event of mobilisation. In the case of the Chartered Bank, four out of the ten expatriate managers were categorised as Essential Services. A state of emergency was declared in Hong Kong on 7 December 1941 and those serving with the Volunteers reported to their units. The next morning (Hong Kong time) the Japanese attacked Hawaii, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore and Malaya. Hong Kong surrendered on 25 December 1941. Those bankers who had served with the Volunteers were incarcerated in POW Camps. Those working for the British, American and Dutch banks who had remained in their civilian role during the battle were interned in late January 1942 at Stanley Civilian Internment Camp. However, a number of these bankers were kept out of internment camp to assist the Japanese officials in the liquidation of the so-called 'enemy banks'. 

There is quite a lot of information in archives, books, and diaries about HSBC and the Chartered Bank during the wartime period. There is much less about the Mercantile Bank and its staff. I looked for Donovan Benson on the log of internees but he was not listed so he must have left Hong Kong, either on leave, on a business trip, or to a new posting before 8 December 1941. I wanted to find out a bit more about the Mercantile Bank, their former Manager, Donovan Benson, his successor as Manager,  Harry Hawkins, and the other managers who were in Hong Kong in December 1941. 

William Ramsay Hobbin, Accountant:
He was born 20 August 1903. In December 1941, he was called up for service in the commissioned rank of 2/Lt and served with 5th AA Regiment, Royal Artillery. He served with the Regular Army rather than the militia. This suggests that he had previous military service. He went straight from the banking hall in Queens Road to the guns. In 1941, he lived at No. 8 The Peak on Mount Austin Road. He was married to Lorna Mary. She was interned at Stanley Camp with sons Michael (1939)  Ricard (1942). Her son Richard was born in camp on 29 January 1942 within a week of her entering camp. This was the second baby to be born in Stanley camp. After the war,  Hobbin resumed his duties with the Mercantile Bank under his old boss Donovan Benson. Hobbin passed away in 1989.

Barry O'Meara Deane, Assistant Accountant:
He was born 12 October 1911 in Kerala, India. During the battle in December 1941, he served in No 2 Bty HKVDC. He was transhipped to Japan on the 3rd Draft in January 1943. His wife Winifred (Win) Barbara was an ANS nurse and was incarcerated at Stanley Camp. She was in Block 10 (known as the Annexe or Hostel).  She shared a room with Ray Mabb and Margery Matthews. They were both volunteer military (HKVDC) nurses. Margery's husband, a Volunteer, had been commissioned during the battle and attached to 5/7 Rajputs. He was killed on the north shore shortly after reporting for duty.  

Win was a keen bridge player, loved to smoke more than anything and was twenty-two when interned. She was born and raised in Shanghai and met my father in China when he went for R&R after a rugby injury in 1940. He used to play rugby for HK. They married in the then Peak Church in July 1940. (Philippa Deane - Stanley Email Group)

Barry and Win had a daughter Philippa (quoted above) born after the war. They retired to Brighton. Deane passed away in June 1998

Douglas Haig Hamilton, Sub Accountant:
He was born in Edinburgh in May 1917. He was married to Doris Mona Agnes. She was an ANS nurse. Doris was interned at Stanley Camp. They lived at Felix Villas at the base of Mount Davis on Victoria Road. He served with Corps Signals, HKVDC. After the war, he returned to the Far East in 1946 and was posted to Singapore/Malaya.  He passed away in 1999.

Harry William Hawkins, Manager:
Harry Hawkins was born in February 1897. He served in the First World War as a Lt in the Essex Regiment. He was wounded but reportedly saved from more serious injury when the bullet passed through a leather pocketbook. He was posted to Hong Kong during 1941 and in the absence of Donovan Benson, he was  Manager of the Hong Kong office in  December 1941 when the war began in the Far East. From Monday 8 December, Hawkins was short-handed as all three of his British managers had been mobilised. Likewise, a number of the Chinese and Portuguese staff had been called up to serve in the volunteers or in the various civil defence units. 

Hawkins was initially interned with other 'enemy bankers' at the Sun Wah Hotel, a cheap boarding house which had been a former brothel. Each morning they would be taken from the Sun Wah Hotel to assist with the liquidation of the British, American and Dutch banks. In 1943, the bankers were interned at Stanley Camp. Hawkins was billeted in Bungalow D (a former staff bungalow in St Stephen's College). After liberation, he returned to the bank's offices which were largely intact. Hawkins was repatriated to the UK. In October 1945, Benson returned to Hong Kong to re-establish the Hong Kong branch. Hawkins passed away in 1961 in Croydon,  at the age of sixty-four. 

Donovan Benson:
He was born in Hornsey, Middlesex in January 1896, the second-born of four brothers. His father was a Bank Manager working with the London & Provincial Bank. Donovan Benson and his elder brother, William Benson, worked as bank clerks in the City before the outbreak of the First World War.  At the age of eighteen, in 1914, he and his older brother joined the 2nd County of London Yeomanry (known as the Westminster Dragoons), a London based militia. 
Benson in the uniform of the Westminster Dragoons (Source: Hazel Hewitt)

  Cap badge of 2nd County of London Yeomanry (Source Wikipedia)

His older brother 2/Lt William Roy Gwyn Benson,  of the South Staffordshire Regiment, was killed in action 2 July 1916 aged 21. 


2/Lt William R G Benson KIA 1916

Donovan Benson served with the Westminster Dragoons in Egypt and the Mediterranean-theatre. He was seriously wounded in 1915 at Gallipoli. He was said to have been struck by a bullet in the jaw which had passed through several sandbags. A military record states that he was entitled to wear a 'wound stripe' on his uniform sleeve. He was sent back to the UK for an operation and medical treatment. After recovering, he was, like his brother, picked out for advancement, and commissioned as a 2/Lt in the South Staffordshire Regiment.  

I am not sure whether he worked for the Mercantile Bank before the First World War, but after the war, in 1919, he was working with the Mercantile Bank in Singapore. He developed a passion for horse racing and polo. He worked with the bank in locations like Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown. He played polo and was team captain in Singapore and Penang.  In 1923, he married Mary Elizabeth Thomlinson in Singapore. In 1925, their first son, Donovan Roy Benson was born and in 1928 a second son, William Jeffrey Benson was born. The couple also adopted a girl, Patricia Lee.  In 1937, he became Manager of the Hong Kong branch of the Mercantile Bank. In the 1941 Jurors List, his address was given as 302, The Peak known as 'Galesend' and situated close to Jardines Corner and the Peak Curch. 

Road Map (1938) of Peak District showing No 302 The Peak (Government Maps Dept)

One thing that is not yet clear is where Benson spent the Pacific War years from December 1941 until October 1945 at which time he returned to Hong Kong to re-establish the Mercantile Bank. There is a record of him travelling from London to Colombo, Ceylon in February 1945. He may have been at the London Head Office or in India or Ceylon. One report suggests that when the war began 'he happened to be out of town' i.e. on normal bank business or perhaps on long leave. 

Benson retired from the Mercantile Bank in 1952 at the age of fifty-six. He was awarded the OBE for his work and public service. After retiring he decided to make Hong Kong his home. He became Chairman of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. He was Chairman for fourteen years from 1953 to 1967. Over the years in Hong Kong, he owned several racehorses. He took over the chairmanship of the Jockey Club from Sir Arthur Morse, the former Chief Manager of HSBC. He oversaw a period where the Jockey Club became active in distributing its surpluses as charitable donations. It was at this time that the prefix 'Royal' was adopted in 1966. 

Benson was a well respected and well-known public figure in Hong Kong. He held many directorships and committee memberships. He was Chairman of the South China Morning Post, an unofficial member of EXCCO in the absence of Sir Arthur Morse. He was President of the Boy Scouts Association (1959/64). He was Chairman of St John Ambulance Brigade (1953/54), a Director of the Diocesan Girls School and a Director of the Hong Kong Tuberculosis Association. He was on the board of the Hong Kong Society for the Protection of Children and he was a Justice of the Peace for many years.  He was always willing to give up his time for good causes and charitable work. His wife, Mary, passed away in 1957 at the early age of 62. They had been married for thirty-four years. Benson passed away, aged 76, at his apartment in Brewin Path, Mid-Levels in November 1972. 

As I researched this article, I found information on Donovan Benson a bit hard to find. Yes, I suppose he belonged to another generation, and lived in a different Hong Kong, but not so very different and Hong Kong still benefits from the causes he sponsored. He helped rebuild his bank and Hong Kong in the aftermath of war and the devastation of the brutal Japanese occupation. Although he spent many years in colonial Hong Kong, a banker, a philanthropist and a public figure, there are few today who would remember him but I think he deserves to be better remembered for what he achieved, the life he led, and because he made a difference in everything he undertook. 


..........................


Photo Gallery

Donovan Benson (right) leading a horse at the races (Source: Hazel Hewitt)


Family photograph with Donovan Benson standing at right (Source: Hazel Hewitt)


The three eldest Benson brothers (William, Wilfred, Donovan) (Source: Hazel Hewitt)


Acknowledgements:

I would like to thank family member, Hazel Hewitt, for allowing me to use family photographs and for her help with regard to the information on the Benson family.

Sources:

Ancestry.com

Forces War Records

The Paradise Bank  - The Mercantile Bank of India (1999) Edwin Green and Sara Kinsey

Pow Mah (1965) (The Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club) 

Government Maps Dept. 


Friday, 25 September 2020

Caronia, No. 17 Bowen Road - the history of a house

A friend of mine recently moved into a charming colonial house named 'Caronia' at No. 17 Bowen Road.  Although I have often walked or jogged along Bowen Road I never knew this house existed. It is hidden in the trees and the only access is by steps leading up from Bowen Road.  Bowen Road runs for 4 km from Magazine Gap Road to the junction of Stubbs Road and Tai Hang Road. No. 17 is the last house on the vehicular stretch of Bowen Road after which access is for pedestrians only. The road is named after Sir George Bowen, Governor of Hong Kong from 1883 to 1885. The aqueduct section consisting of 21 granite arches was built between 1885 and 1887. The house is thought to be named after the Cunard liner RMS Caronia launched in 1904 on Clydeside. The ship sailed mostly across the Atlantic and there is little evidence of the ship voyaging to the Far East. Perhaps the owner had a romantic relationship on the ship which was presumably named after the charming Sicilian hill-top town bearing the same name. The ship was scrapped in 1932. The house built in 1923. The three neighbouring houses at No. 16, No. 15 and No. 14 were completed between 1920 and 1923. An old house like this must have an interesting history. My friend asked me if I could look into the history of the house and find out something about the people who lived there. These four colonial houses, with their neat lawns and white balustrades, were clearly visible from anywhere in Hong Kong or Kowloon. The photograph below shows them in 1949.


No. 17, 16, 15, and 14 Bowen Road (Source: Getty Images - Common Usage)

Today, No.16 has been demolished and a new building is being constructed. No.15 looks largely original but some renovation and structural work may have altered its original appearance.  No. 14 has been completely demolished and a new less charming structure erected in its place.  


Map showing the four properties

Formerly No. 14 (now 12b and c) housing the Seychelles Consulate

No. 15 Bowenn Road

The garage block - perhaps originally one for each house

What is left of No. 16

My first view of the house, No. 17,  through the trees 

Set amongst the trees and splendid gardens

The Terrace

View from the roof

History enthusiast, Alex Macdonald, did a search at the land registry and found that No 17 was completed in 1923. Its first registered owner was Captain Frank Leader Brown born 5 October 1888 and passed away 8 August 1968 in Sussex.  He served in the Royal Engineers since 1907/1908 when he is listed as a 2/Lt. When WW1 broke out in 1914 he had attained the rank of Captain. Records indicate that he served in Hong Kong before the war as he gives an address in 1913 as RE Mess in Hong Kong. Forces war records indicate that he saw service in Italy during the war. Locations included Monte Cassino, Anzio, Salerno and San Marino. This may be the reason he named the house Caronia. 

After the war, possibly in 1922, he appears to have left the Army and come back to Hong Kong. He appears on Juror's Lists in 1923, when the house was completed and is listed as a Civil Engineer working for Hongkong Electric (HKE). His address is given as No. 17 Bowen Road. This continues from 1923 until 1941 indicating that he lived at No. 17 for those eighteen years until the war started in December 1941.

In June 1928, he is listed on the manifest of Empress of Australia returning to the  UK with his widowed mother Mary Gertrude Brown of Littlecourt, Goring-upon-Thames. He was thirty-nine and his mother was sixty-two. They travelled from Hong Kong via Manila and Vancouver and then across the continent to board the Empress at Quebec. Travelling with them was Muriel Winifred Holmes (nee Bateman) the wife of Harold Kennard Holmes, whose address, strangely enough,  is given as No. 17 Bowen Road.  Did they all live together or did Harold Holmes house-sit for them? Harold and Muriel Holmes had married in 1905 at St John's Cathedral. She had previously been a teacher at Belilos School.

Had Harold and Muriel's marriage broken down?  Was there a romantic relationship between Muriel Holmes and Frank Brown? There certainly was later, as Frank and Muriel married. I have not found a date for the marriage but it was probably in the mid-1930s. Howard Holmes later married Ellen Florence Holmes in 1938 in Essex. He died four years later in 1942 in Essex. 

Muriel was six years older than Frank Brown.  They were interned at Stanley Camp in January 1942. They were billeted in A4/15 which was in the Prison Officers Club Building. They retired to Worthing where Muriel died in 1967 and where Frank died the following year.

The next owner of No. 17 came as a bit of a surprise. I recognised the name immediately. It was Elizabeth ('Emma') Appleton Fidoe. She was one of the five European volunteer military nurses who were raped by Japanese troops at St Stephen's College Hospital on 25 December 1941. She is listed as an owner of No. 17 from 1948 until 1951 when the London Missionary Society acquired the house possibly under the terms of her will. 

Emma Fidoe (nee Dudley) was of Irish extraction born in Kilkenny in 1898. Her family moved to Aldershot, England. Her father was working with the British Army (possibly in a civilian role). She became a nurse, and at one stage was working as Matron at the London Jewish Hospital. She married SQMS (Staff Quarter Master Sergeant) Joseph Henry Fidoe, RAOC in December 1935. The marriage is referenced in the China Mail 31 December 1935. I had assumed she was a Roman Catholic but the wedding took place at St John's Cathedral. The newspaper reports that Emma had just arrived in Hong Kong on the troopship HMT Neuralia. The ship was sunk by a mine in 1945.

HMT Neuralia (Source: the-weatherings.co.uk)

Joseph Fidoe was born in 1891. He had served abroad since 1931 in Egypt, China and Hong Kong. He had been married twice before. His first wife, Nelly Proudman, had predeceased him. They married in 1912 and had a daughter Molly. Nelly died in 1925 and in the same year, Joseph Fidoe married May Dudley in London. She was Emma's sister. She died in China in 1934. The following year he married his thirty-seven-year-old sister-in-law, Emma. The wedding is a big event with a well-attended reception at the Gloucester Hotel. A few years later, Joseph Fidoe left the Army and in 1938 appears on the Jurors List as an employee of Tai Koo Dockyard. However, after this, he seems to disappear into the ether.  He was not in Hong Kong in December 1941. So what happened to him - did he predecease Emma? Did they separate and divorce? I can not find any record of his death. We know that Emma was working as a military nurse serving with the Nursing Detachment of the HKVDC in December 1941 and that she was raped and abused by Japanese soldiers on Christmas Day after they took over St Stephen's Collge Temporary Hospital. We know that she was not interned at Stanley Camp. She must have avoided internment on the grounds of Irish (neutral) nationality. How did she survive in Japanese occupied Hong Kong? What was the source of her funds? Did she continue to practice as a private nurse? All we know is that in October 1945 she was repatriated on the hospital ship HMHS Oxfordshire.  She was demobbed from the Nursing Detachment in London in May 1946 and then returned to Hong Kong to resume her career as a private nurse. It is surprising that she chose to return to Hong Kong given all that she went through.

In 1948, she appears as the new owner of No. 17 presumably assigned to her by Frank Leader Brown but how does a nurse afford a house like this and why did she need such a large house.  There are still a lot of unanswered questions.


Letter from Emma to Adjutant ND, HKVDC dated October 1946 (Source: HK PRO)



Letter from Commandant of ND HKVDC to Emma (Sept. 1945) (Source: HK PRO)

Emma lived at No. 17  until her premature death, aged only 52, at Queen Mary Hospital.

Notice of probate (Source: Ancestry.com)

The next owner of Caronia, No. 17 Bowen Road,  was the London Missionary Society (LMS) - it may have been bequeathed to them by Emma. The LMS retained it until 1954. 

Houses have a history, they have tales to tell about the people that lived in them, the lives they led, the things they witnessed, their happiness and sadness. It's wonderful that this house still remains to whisper evocatively of days gone by and how things used to be. 

...............


The Neighbours - No. 16, 15 & 14

No. 16 is now demolished. A new structure will go up in its place no doubt lacking any sort of charm that these old houses once exuded. We have not yet been able to find the previous registered owners. I did notice that in 2012 it was sold by Tony Chan, the feng shui master, closely linked to Nina Wang, for the princely sum of HKD380mm.

No. 15 is still the original house although no doubt after much renovation. The house was constructed in 1920. The first owner is listed as Thomas William Shearstone. He may have been the developer. The house was acquired in 1923 by brothers William and Anthony Carroll along with No 14. In 1925, the property was acquired by Peak Tramways who owned the property until after the war. No. 17 and No. 15 are the only original properties. 

No. 14 has been demolished and now seems to be 12 b and 12 c. The less than charming building incorporates the Seychelles Consulate. As with No 15  it was first owned by TW Shearstone who I suspect was the developer. The house was assigned to the Carroll Brothers in 1923. It was assigned to HK Telephone Co in 1947. In December 1941. Henry and Sarah Refo and their four children were renting No 14 from the Carrol Brothers. The Carroll brothers were considered as traitors by the British and had been interned together with Japanese and Italian civilians. 


Acknowledgements:

Ted Lee

Alexander Macdonald

Gwulo.com





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)

Marine

Meteorological (Observatory)

Water Police (Police launches)

Harbour 

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? 


******************

Sources:

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 
Stanley
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
BuckinghamHarryL-Bdr25-Dec-41
BullockHarryGunner
ButlinStrathmore  TathamGnr25-Dec-41
Collins-TaylorDouglas HarleyL-Bdr25-Dec-41
DoddsGeorgeSgt
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
JolendovskyTadeuszGunner
JonesHSLt25-Dec-41
JongeDe GillaesGunner
KossakowskiZ.A.Gunner25-Dec-41
LandauEmil
LandauLeoL-Bdr
LanderJohn Gerard HeathGunner25-Dec-41
LawsonW  GrahamGunner25-Dec-41
LipknowskyBorisGunner25-Dec-41
LodgeCyril JohnGunner25-Dec-41
LyonDavidGunner25-Dec-41
MackenzieNorman  HGunner
MarshallAdamGunner
McCabeLawrence  HughGunner25-Dec-41
MillingtonLeslie CharlesSgt
MillingtonHenry  (Harry) JamesSgt25-Dec-41
MuirHugh Gordon2nd Lt25-Dec-41
NashRobert  CharlesGunner25-Dec-41
OrrDouglasBdr25-Dec-41
OswaldJohn Lee GuinnessBSM
PedersenKay  WGunner
PomeroyJohn  BernardGunner
ReesGeorge FrederickCaptWounded in action
RoosteinAnatoleGunner
RudrofWladyslaw PawelGunner25-Dec-41
Samuel  HerbertGunner25-Dec-41
SayersMax W Gunner25-Dec-41
SkinnerOsmondGunner
SlossGeoff  DuncanGunner
SmithCharles  AGunner25-Dec-41
SmithJohn Reginald MartinGunner24-Dec-41
StaffordABGunner25-Dec-41
StoneGeoffrey  Paul L-Bdr25-Dec-41
SwanMalcolm McDonaldGunner
ThomersonGodfreyL-Bdr25-Dec-41
TseninEugene AlexesGunner
TuckerNorman FosterGunner
VoronoffConstantineGunner
WalreeErik  VanGunner
WatsonRussell  A E Gunner
WellerFrederick Anthony ("Tony")Gunner
WilkensKurtGunner25-Dec-41
WyllieRoy LeslieGunner25-Dec-41
YourieffEugene  GGunner
Yung Yue Wang Gunner25-Dec-41
ZaitzeffAnatoleL-Bdr


Sources:
Millington's Diary held at IWM