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




Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Walter Fryatt, Winnipeg Grenadiers

Walter Butcher Fryatt was born in York, England on 22nd November 1900. He was the youngest of eight siblings. He was killed in action on 21st December 1941 while serving as Company Sergeant Major (CSM) of 'B' Coy Winnipeg Grenadiers in the Battle for Hong Kong. This is an attempt to put together some details of his life, and through feedback from readers I hope that I can add more to this story. This is also a tribute to a Canadian soldier who died in Hong Kong in the service of his country. 

He married Florence May Firth in 1925 in Barnsley, Yorkshire. They had four children Walter Dennis (1926-1996), Jean Margaret (1927-1933), Robert (1934-2011) and Joan who was born in 1938. Florence May Fryatt died in Manitoba, Canada in 2004 having reached the age of 100 years. She lived on for  nearly sixty-three years after she lost her husband in December 1941. As far as I can see she never remarried. She lost her second born child,  Jean Margaret aged six, in 1933. 

Walter Fryatt joined the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) in World War 1. He served with this unit from June 1917 until October 1919. In 1922 he joined the York & Lancashire Regiment until 1925. In 1927 he served with the Green Howards  referred to as the Yorkshire Regiment. He was a Yorkshireman and a soldier.

He emigrated to Canada in 1928. I don't think he had a very happy childhood and he did not keep contact with his remaining family in Yorkshire after he left England.  I found a record of him traveling on the White Star liner  RMS Cedric in August 1928 as part of the Harvesters Scheme for Manitoba in which immigrants were recruited to work as farm laborers in the Canadian farm belt. He sailed from Liverpool to Halifax, Nova Scotia to make a new start for his young family. 

RMS Cedric
I found a record of Florence May traveling in 1930 from Liverpool to Quebec on the White Star Liner Albertic. A beautiful ship but Florence like Walter travelled Third Class. She was traveling with her two oldest children Walter Dennis and Jean Margaret. She had two more children after reaching Canada.

The family settled in Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba. Walter was later employed as an Operator for the Winnipeg Electric Company. After arriving in Canada Walter joined the Winnipeg Grenadiers which at that time was a militia  unit. His military records show that he completed annual training from 1931 to 1937. On the outbreak of war in September 1939 he re-joined the Winnipeg Grenadiers on a full time or mobilized basis and was quickly promoted  to CSM given his previous military experience. In June 1940 he sailed for Jamaica with the Grenadiers where the regiment undertook garrison duties. He returned to Canada in 1941 just before the Grenadiers were sent to Hong Kong in November 1941.

In Hong Kong he served as CSM of 'B' Coy which was under the command of Major Henry Hook. Three weeks after arriving in Hong Kong war started with Japan. Initially the Canadian troops were based at Sham Shui Po Barracks in Kowloon. When war started the Grenadiers were deployed to their war stations on Hong Kong Island. 'B' Coy were deployed at Pok Fu Lam Reservoir on the south western side of Hong Kong Island.

Many of the splinter proof war shelters that housed the Coy's three platoons and the Coy HQ still remain, with one string of shelters located north of the reservoir, and another string in a ravine to the west of the reservoir.

Pok Fu Lam Reservoir

War shelter across a ravine occupied by 'B' Coy WG in December 1941

'B' Coy WG  shelters as they appear today 

A steel door survives the test of time
The Japanese landed three infantry regiments on the north shore of Hong Kong Island on Thursday 18th December 1941. By Friday 19th December they had captured Mt Parker, Mt Butler, Jardines Lookout, Stanley Gap Road and the police station at Wong Nai Chung (WNC) Gap. Counterattacks were made throughout the 19th, 20th and 21st to try and regain WNC  Gap  but all efforts failed as the Japanese were there in overwhelming strength.

On Saturday 20th December 'B' Coy were ordered to report to Battalion HQ at Wan Chai Gap and thereafter to counterattack WNC Gap by way of Blacks Link, a road track linking WNC Gap and Wan Chai Gap. The attack commenced in the afternoon and the Coy proceeded down Black's Link led by Major Henry Hook, CSM Walter Fryatt and Sgt Ken Porter. Having passed Middle Gap, about one third of the way along Black's Link, they came under attack from a Japanese patrol and incurred a number of casualties.  The Coy withdrew to Middle Gap, and the attack was to resume at dawn the next day. The Coy spent an uncomfortable night in the open with low temperatures and rain.

The Japanese by this time had a large number of troops on Mount Nicholson which overlooked Black's Link and they were able to fire down on Black's Link. Lt Hugh Young and CSM Walter Fryatt were both killed by machine gun fire on Blacks Link whilst trying to press forward to reach WNC Gap during the morning on Sunday 21st December. Florence May Fryatt was not officially notified of Walter's death until 1943. He has no known grave although his name is remembered on a panel at Sai Wan Military Cemetery.

Florence May was survived by two of her children (Robert and Joan). At the time of her death she had eight grandchildren, thirteen great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.


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