Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Major Edward de Vere Hunt - Killed in action 20th December 1941

Edward de Vere Hunt was born 12th December 1908. He was educated at the Dragon School in Oxford, and from age thirteen, at Rugby School. He was remembered as an outstanding sportsman.  He excelled at cricket, hockey, football, rugby and boxing. At school he was a known as Bunch but in later life simply as "Ted." At the age of nineteen, in 1927, he left school and attended the Royal Military Academy (RMA) Woolwich. After passing out from RMA in 1929 he was commissioned as an officer in the Royal Artillery. In 1935 he was serving in the Royal Horse Artillery firstly in Egypt and later in Palestine where he was promoted to Captain. In 1938 he was posted to Hong Kong  where he served  with the coastal defence batteries. He was promoted to Major, and in 1940 transferred to the Hong Kong Singapore Royal Artillery (HKSRA) with whom he fought very gallantly both on the Mainland and on the Island. He was killed in action, aged thirty-three, at Wong Nai Chung Gap on  20th December 1941.


Major de Vere Hunt (Source: Dragon School Memorials)
Prior to WW2 he played rugby for a number of major teams including Hampshire, the Army First XV and the Barbarians. At the age of twenty-five he married Nancy Amore Fleetwood Rudkin, who was aged twenty-one. They were married on 5th May 1934 at St Nicholas Church, Compton, near Guildford, close to her  family home at Brook House, in Compton. Her father was a retired Army Officer. A search of the internet revealed her charming family home.


Brook Hose, Compton (Source: Geograph.org.uk)
In the Battle for Hong Kong Ted Hunt commanded No. 1 Battery, HKSRA. This unit was equipped with four 3.7-inch howitzers which can be stripped down into nine parts and then transported by pack mules. In addition, they had four 4.5-inch howitzers which required lorries to tow them in, and out of, their battery positions.  The 4.5-inch guns were located at Red Hill and Tai Tam Hill. The two guns at Red Hill were inadvertently put out of action when the battery commander misinterpreted  an order to "get out of action" as meaning to put the guns out off action; demonstrating how important it is that orders be given clearly and unambiguously. For this reason many officers required important orders to be issued in writing. The two 4.5-inch guns at Tai Tam Hill were abandoned by the battery personnel when they came into the front line following the Japanese landings during the night of 18th/19th December 1941.

The four 3.7-inch Howitzers were initially deployed on the Mainland at Customs Pass and provided artillery support for the two Indian infantry battalions on the centre and right flank of the Gin Drinkers Line (GDL). During the evacuation of the Mainland, his battery supported the fighting retreat and rear-guard action by 5th/7th Rajputs. Major Hunt's guns took a heavy toll on Colonel Tanaka's 3rd Battalion of the 229th Infantry Regiment. Major de Vere Hunt's barrage of observed fire was deadly accurate and broke up a battalion level attack, and thereby helped achieve the successful evacuation of the two Indian battalions.

After the evacuation to the Island, two of the 3.7-inch howitzers were moved to Gauge Basin and put out of action when the battery came under infantry attack on 19th December. The remaining two howitzers were deployed at Tai Tam Fork Battery. One of which was sent forward to Lye Mun Barracks to fire on Japanese positions on Devil's Peak peninsula. This gun was overrun and lost on 18th December when the Japanese landed in that locality and overran the barracks and the 3.7 gun position. The one remaining gun at Tai Tam Fork Battery was the only howitzer in East Group, RA, sector that was successfully brought back to Stanley. On the 19th December, 1st Mountain Battery lost all its guns except for this one 3.7-inch howitzer which was extricated to Stanley. The  2nd Mountain Battery lost three 3.7-inch guns at Stanley Gap and two 6-inch guns positioned midway along Stanley Gap Road. The 3rd Medium Battery lost its four 6-inch guns which were located at (Mt) Parker Battery (on Island Road) and Sai Wan. It was a tragic set-back to lose sixteen howitzers, and it left East Infantry Brigade with inadequate artillery support in the counterattacks made against well entrenched and numerically superior Japanese positions. In reality the mobile artillery was not very mobile, because the guns were operated at pre-prepared battery positions which included gun pits, light anti-aircraft defence, concrete ammunition lockers and splinter proof accommodation for battery personnel. They were also hampered by insufficient transport and insufficient mules, and the rapidity of the Japanese advance following their landings on the Island during the night of 18th/ 19th December 1941.

On the night of 19th/20th December, the HKSRA,without their guns, were the only troops available  to launch a counterattack. Fighting as infantry they were ordered to counterattack WNC Gap. The Indian Other Ranks (IORs) proceeded up Repulse Bay Road in bare feet to reduce noise and two of the HKVDC armoured cars led the way clearing the road up to the gap. The Japanese were well entrenched at WNC Gap and were there in strength. There were four front-line Japanese infantry battalions at and around the gap. The gunners managed to recapture the police post on the knoll, but it was later retaken by Japanese reinforcements from Stanley Gap. During the fighting around the gap Major de Vere Hunt was killed as was his fellow officer Captain Feilden, and their commanding officer, Lt-Col Yale, who although in poor health, had insisted on accompanying his troops into battle. What I did not realise is that after the capture of the police station, Major de Vere Hunt had actually gone through the gap and reported to RA HQ at the Battle Box. Major John Monro, Brigade Major, Royal Artillery recalled de Vere Hunt's arrival at Fortress HQ during the night 19th/20th December in his personal war diary  held at Imperial War Museum (IWM Docs. 17941).
"Ted Hunt came in this evening. He had led a counterattack against Wong Nai Chung Gap and had recaptured it almost single-handed. As he got near the enemy his Battery just melted away. Though the gunners are steady under shellfire, they will not face the enemy at hand to hand fighting. ... They have had very little training in the use of infantry weapons and so few of our young officers can make themselves really understood  in their language. ... Ted is looking very wild and wooly. He is wearing an extraordinary assortment of uniform, he has three or four days growth of beard and is carrying a Tommy gun. .... He has had no sleep for the past two days. The CRA [Commander Royal Artillery] ordered him to go back to Stanley and rest. About this time news came through that the Japs had re-occupied WNC Gap. Just as Ted was leaving I warned him of this and told him to go round by Pok Fu Lam".  (Major John Monro, RA)
De Vere Hunt returned to WNC Gap and was killed in action early on Saturday 20th. His body was not recovered. His wife Nancy placed an advertisement in the Times in March 1942 seeking information on her husband's whereabouts. She was not officially informed of his death until June 1944. In 1946 she remarried to Geoffrey Dean. Her parents both died two years later in 1948, and she died prematurely in 1972, at the still early age of sixty.

Major Ted de Vere Hunt died as he lived his life, utterly fearless, a strong leader, admired and respected by all.  

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2 comments:

  1. Hi, I thought you might be interested in this extract from my book (see https://unbound.com/books/stranger-in-my-heart) about my Dad, Maj John Monro MC RA, talking about his last conversation with Ted Hunt on 19 Dec '41:
    “Ted Hunt came in this evening. He had led a counter attack against Wong Nai Chung and had recaptured it almost single-handed. As he got near the enemy his Battery just melted away. Though the gunners are steady under shellfire, they will not face the enemy at hand to hand fighting. I don’t really blame them. They have had very little training in the use of infantry weapons and so few of our young officers can make themselves really understood in their language. Jack Fielden was killed in this attack and Colonel Yale badly wounded. Ted could tell us nothing of Tim Temple, Geoffrey Proes, or Jack Fox. Ted is looking very wild and woolly. He is wearing an extraordinary assortment of uniform, he has 3 or 4 day growth of beard and is carrying a Tommy gun which he swears is the finest weapon ever invented. He has had no sleep for the past two days. The C.R.A. had ordered him to go back to Stanley and rest. About this time news came through that the Japs had reoccupied Wong Nai Chung. Just as Ted was leaving I warned him of this and told him to go round by Pok Fu Lam but he replied “Bugger the Nip I am going back that way anyhow”. And with that he dashed up the stairs out of the Battle Box”.

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  2. Dear Mary: Thank you for that interesting extract. I actually do have Major Munro's war diary (hard copy) from Imperial War Museum and I found it incredibly useful. I saw the section in his diary about Ted De Vere Hunt coming to the Battle Box which is quite incredible and then going back and getting killed. I regularly arrange guided battlefield tours battlefield tours around WNC Gap and am in closing stages of a book on the Battle for Hong Kong. The counterattack by HKSRA on 19th Dec actually resulted in them recapturing the police station (albeit briefly). I have been meaning to incorporate this information from Brigade Major John Munro in the story and will do so soonest. I would love to read your book. Philip

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