Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Major-General Christopher Michael Maltby, CB, MC, DL

Christopher Michael Maltby, known as 'Michael', was born 13th January 1891 in Kensington, London. He was educated at Bedford School, and at the age of nineteen he entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich as an Officer Cadet. In 1910, as a subaltern, he was posted to the 1st Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment in India. He sailed on the trooper HMT Dongola. In December 1911 he joined the 95th Russell's Infantry a regiment of the British Indian Army. He served with the Indian Army until July 1941 when he arrived in Hong Kong to take up the unenviable job (in hindsight) of being General Officer Commanding (GOC) British Troops in China. He was the military commander of an isolated outpost, which the British were willing to sacrifice, albeit not without a cost, because as Churchill famously acknowledged there was "not the slightest chance" of being able to defend it.

"If Japan goes to war there is not the slightest chance of holding Hong Kong or relieving it.  It is most unwise to increase the loss we shall suffer there.  Instead of increasing the garrison it ought to be reduced.  Japan will think twice before declaring war on the British Empire, and whether there are two or six battalions at Hong Kong will make no difference.  I wish we had fewer troops there, but to move any would be noticeable and dangerous.”  (Winston Churchill in January 1941 to General Hastings Ismay).


Major-General Maltby as Military Commander and Sir Mark Young as Governor and Commander-in-Chief had the difficult task of formally surrendering the Crown Colony of Hong Kong to the Japanese on 25th December 1941. The battle had been short but brutal lasting eighteen days. The photograph below of the surrender formality at the Peninsula Hotel by candlelight shows General Maltby seated to the right. To the left is Lt-Col 'Monkey' Stewart  commanding officer of 1st Bn Middlesex Regiment and seated behind him with the extravagant moustache is Wing Commander Hubert Thomas 'Alf' Bennet. He was a Japanese linguist working with Major Boxer in the Intelligence unit known as Far East Combined Bureau. It was Alf Bennet and Monkey Stewart  who had first walked out, with the flag of truce, to conduct the surrender, but the Japanese had insisted that Major-General Maltby and Sir Mark Young attend in person. Sir Mark is out of the photograph to the left, and may have been speaking, as people are looking in his direction. Sir Mark asked that the photographer be removed, and the Japanese obliged, but already some photographs including this one had been  taken. 

Major-General Maltby at the Surrender 25th December 1941
Major-General Maltby conversing with Brigadier John Lawson in Hong Kong before the war 
In WW1 Lt Maltby continued to serve with the 95th Russell's Infantry Regiment. He was wounded on three occasions, Mentioned in Dispatches thrice, and in 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross (MC) for gallantry in the field.  He served initially in the Persian Gulf and later in Mesopotamia and from 1918 to 1919 he served in Salonika, capital of Greek Macedonia. He had attained the rank of Acting Major by the time the war ended. After the war Maltby attended the Indian Army Staff Course at Quetta in 1923 and the RAF Staff Course at Andover in 1927.


He married Helene Margaret Napier-Clavering in June 1927 at St Mary's Church in Taunton, Somerset. He was aged 36 and she was aged 26 at the time of their wedding. Both families had connections with India and she had been born in India. Maltby continued his service in the Indian Army,  serving twice on the dangerous North West Frontier. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1934 and to full Colonel in 1938. In 1939 he was promoted to Brigadier and commanded the 3rd Jhelum Brigade, then the Calcutta Brigade and finally the 19th Indian Infantry Brigade in Deccan before being sent to Hong Kong as GOC in the acting rank of Major-General.

After the surrender Maltby was incarcerated as a prisoner of war in Hong Kong for three and a half years until liberation in August 1945 firstly in Sham Shui Po POW Camp and secondly in Argyle Street Officers Camp. Later  he was moved to Formosa and finally to Manchuria with other senior officers. The photograph below shows Major-General Maltby looking thin and strained but happy following his release from POW Camp.  


Maltby (carrying a Japanese sword) with American soldiers following his release from POW Camp 
Luba Estes sent me a photo of a sketch of Major-General Maltby that her father Lt Alec Skvorzov, HKVDC drew whilst they were incarcerated in Sham Shui Po Camp. 

Drawing by Lt Alexander Skvorzov (Courtesy of Luba Estes) 
Twenty years after the war, in 1965,  Michael Maltby attended an Argyle Street Camp reunion as did Alec Skvorzov and Maltby signed the original sketch.  Many of Alec Skvorzov's sketches of Sham Shui Po Camp can be seen in a compilation of sketches published in 1948 under the title Chinese Ink and Brush Sketches of Prisoner of War Camp Life in Hong Kong.



After being repatriated to UK, Maltby retired from the British Indian Army in June 1946.  He was affirmed in the honorary rank of Major-General, which had been a temporary rank during the war. His Report on Operations in Hong Kong (which went through several drafts) was published in January 1948. He was made Deputy Lord Lieutenant of the County of Somerset and a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB). He spent his retirement near Taunton, Somerset. He and Helene lived in a modest country cottage called Greenacre, in the village of Shoreditch on the outskirts of Taunton. A search on the internet shows the property. An old cottage with low ceilings, built close to what then was a minor  road, with a large garden at the side and rear.  Michael Maltby returned from a distinguished military career spent in far-off India, having fought in two world wars and numerous skirmishes. Like many British Indian Army officers he  retired to the English countryside and lived quietly. He did not write his memoirs and unlike public figures today he did not charge large sums of money to appear on the lecture circuit.  Helene died in 1974 aged seventy-four. At the time of her death they had been married for forty-seven years. Mike Maltby died aged eighty-nine at Taunton in September 1980.  Michael and Helen Maltby had two daughters Ann Margaret (1928) an Barbara Helen Jessie (1931).

Michael Maltby must have sometimes wondered, did he hold out long enough in Hong Kong, should he have done things differently, did he have the right strategy, but at the end of the day, as he himself said, he and his force had been a "hostage to fortune."


Photo of Major-General Maltby  from "Passport to Eternity" (1956)  by Ralph Goodwin 

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Acknowledgements:

James Barnes for additional information sources
Luba Estes for sketch of Michael Maltby drawn by her father Lt A.V. Skvorzov, HKVDC


Further Reading:

Article on Major--General Maltby by Tony Banham in Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography (2012) edited by May Holdsworth and Christopher Munn