Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Ray Jackson, a WW2 soldier's watch found in hills of Hong Kong - Pillbox 315 - Major Douglas Dewe (Monthly Blog - April 2017)

A wrist watch found in the hills of Hong Kong, once owned by a Canadian soldier who was killed in action during the Battle for Hong Kong in December 1941, is returned to his family in Canada 

On Monday 27th March 2017, Dave Willott, one of the military metal detecting group in Hong Kong, was searching the hillside of Stone Hill, near Stanley, when he found and unearthed a wrist watch. There is nothing particularly unusual about finding a watch, except in this case, when he cleaned it, he found engraved on the reverse, the name and rank of a Canadian soldier who had served with the Royal Rifles of Canada (RRC) in the Battle for Hong Kong in December 1941. The watch had once belonged to twenty-one-year-old Rifleman Ray Donald Jackson who served with 'D' Coy RRC.

At noon on Monday 22nd December 1941, two platoons from  'D' Coy had been redeployed to Stanley Mound, from their positions at Chung Hom Kok. At 1700 hours Battalion HQ, at Stone Hill Shelters, ordered the two 'D' Coy platoons to move to Stone Hill in order to strengthen the centre of the battalion front. Rifleman Jackson was part of this force.  Later that evening the 'B' Coy and 'HQ' Coy platoons on Stanley Mound were pushed off the crest by Japanese infantry supported by mortar and artillery. The  crest was re-taken after a Vickers machine gun barrage was opened on the crest of Stanley Mound on Tuesday morning (23rd Dec) from 1/Mx positions in Stanley Village.

Pre-war map showing location of Stone Hill and the Royal Rifles of Canada Bn HQ at Stone Hill Shelters
The 'D' Coy platoons remained at Stone Hill during  the night of 22nd December. Throughout the following day they were involved in fire-fights with Japanese troops. The amount of spent ammunition found on Stanley Mound and Stone Hill testify to the extent of fighting that took place on 22nd and 23rd December on these two hills on the Stanley perimeter. The hills were strategically important  because they overlooked Stanley where British and Allied forces had concentrated and were preparing to fight a last stand. Possession of these hills by the Japanese permitted observed and therefore accurate fire to be brought down on the military positions on Stanley Peninsula.

The Canadian infantry had been in continuous action since the Japanese landed on the Island on the night of 18th/19th December. The  battalion had been seriously depleted by battle casualties, and the men were physically exhausted. A decision was made to withdraw the battalion to the flatter ground around Stanley. At dusk on Tuesday 23rd December, the battalion, withdrew from the hills on the Stanley perimeter, under cover of darkness, to new positions near Stanley Village. A new battalion HQ was established at Bungalow 'A', one of the staff bungalows in the grounds of St Stephen's College, Stanley.

Rifleman Jackson was reported as missing in action and was "last seen on Stone Hill" (source Tony Banham Not the Slightest Chance). He was most probably killed at the spot on Stone Hill, where the watch was found, and this may have occurred during their evacuation under fire in the evening of Tuesday 23rd December, two days before the colony surrendered.

The photograph below, by Stuart Woods shows the reverse of the watch after being cleaned by Leigh Hardwick both members of the military metal detecting group. The engraving reads:  "Pte. Ray D. Jackson B68205." The rank of Pte rather than Rifleman on the engraving denotes that Ray Jackson was in a different unit before joining the Royal Rifles in 1941, although his Army service number was unchanged.

Very often those reported as missing in action have no known grave. However in Ray's case his body must have been recovered because he is buried at Sai Wan Military Cemetery. His grave is shown in the photograph below. He may have been given a battlefield burial by his own troops during the battle, or may have been buried after hostilities ended by Allied burial parties allowed out from initial incarceration at Stanley Fort,  to collect wounded and bury the dead. Such burials would take place at the location where the body was found. Those buried either during hostilities, or after hostilities ended, were exhumed after the war and reinterred in one of the two military cemeteries, which were located at Sai Wan and Stanley. 

Ray Jackson's grave (Courtesy Craig Mitchell)  
Dave wanted to return the watch to the soldier's family and our small group of history enthusiasts rallied round to help. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission on-line records confirmed that Ray Jackson  died on 23rd December 1941, and that his next of kin were George and Charlotte Jackson from Wiarton, Ontario, Canada. Tony Banham's web site contains a list of garrison members, Ray was listed as being in 'D' Coy which fitted with his being killed in action on 23rd December on Stone Hill.

The next step was to contact Jim Trick and Lori Atkinson Smith of the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association in Canada (HKVCA). They worked with Lillian Randall, a researcher in Canada, and within twenty-four hours had discovered a family member. There was no direct descendant as  Ray was killed whilst still a young man, and before he had a chance to marry and have children of his own. It appears he was adopted by George and Charlotte Jackson who were from a farming family in Ontario. I think he may have been adopted within the wider family, as his birth parents  appear to bear the same family name. George and Charlotte Jackson only had one child, a daughter Ida Pearl Jackson born in 1904. She was seventeen years older than her adoptive brother Ray. She married Clifford Burgess in September 1925, when Ray was still a young child. We found that Ray's closest surviving family member is Steve Burgess who is the grandson of Ida and Clifford Burgess. He was astounded to be contacted by HKVCA and told about the watch which had been found on a battlefield in Hong Kong only twenty-four hours earlier.

Ray's Attestation Record (
Leigh Hardwick, a professional modeller, and member our group made a beautiful walnut presentation box to hold the watch with the emblem of the Royal Rifles of Canada engraved on the lid. 

Presentation box made by Leigh Hardwick with photo courtesy Stuart Woods
The HKVCA will present the watch to Steve Burgess in May. It is very rare to find something with a name on it. It is good to think that this personal item that one belonged to a young Canadian soldier, who gave his life in the service of his country, in the hills on Hong Kong Island, is finally going home, after seventy-five years, back to Canada, and back to a member of his family. 


Pillbox 315 Tai Po Road - Pipers Hill

Armed with directions from two FaceBook (FB) friends, Jeff Li and Alexander MacDonald, who are both military history enthusiasts, I set out to find and visit PB 315. The pillbox is situated on a knoll overlooking the Byewash Reservoir and close to the dilapidated ruin of an old colonial house.

1938 Revised Map showing PB 315 & PB 314
The Colonial House
The colonial house looks like a 1930's era building, it is situated beside Tai Po Road below Piper's Hill. It was once used as a family home for senior engineers or senior managers of the Water Supplies Dept, I think referred to at that time, in this area,  as Kowloon Water Works. The main reservoirs were built between 1910 (Kowloon Reservoir), 1931 (Byewash Reservoir) and 1937 (Shing Mun Reservoir). It was apparently occupied until 1970s/1980s. I have seen reference to the house at one stage being occupied by HK Police (Special Branch), but the decor inside is more consistent with family use. There is an outhouse which includes a garage and servants quarters.  

The front entrance  
Side view

The back door was open so I took a look inside. There was parquet flooring, a fireplace, and bathrooms with a 1970s style decor. The hill on which the house is built is sometimes referred to as Monkey Hill. This is an appropriate name because the whole area is home to a large numbers of monkeys, and no doubt they would have been a nuisance to the occupants.
Reception room 
The Pillbox (PB 315)
To reach the PB one has to proceed past the house, and up a path through what must have been the back garden to a knoll where the PB is located overlooking the reservoir below. The PB is approached by a concrete trench which leads to the entrance of a concrete tunnel or passageway which leads into the three-loophole pillbox with two gun compartments. 

 Pillbox 315
The concrete trench leading to the tunnel
One of the gun compartments and machine gun loophole
Passageway with storage compartments and a space for a water tank
Historian Rusty Tsoi advised that the tilted wall in the photograph above may be connected to use of a gas curtain. Rob Weir who is an expert on WW2 Fixed Defences in Hong Kong confirmed that he had long suspected that the PBs on the Mainland had gas curtains. I have also seen reference too gas curtains being used in ARP tunnels.

There are Japanese characters scratched on to the wall of the passageway. Rusty advised that they translate as follows. 

"Captured by xxx squad, 8927 Butai (38 Mountain Gun Battery), 38 Div"
(xxx means unidentifiable)

"Those from Aichi county, good luck on your fightings"

It is not clear who manned this PB, but probably it was2nd Bn Royal Scots ( 2/RS),  as it was near to their Battalion HQ at Filter Beds House. The Bn HQ occupied this position (Filter Beds) after withdrawing from a more forward position, at 6th milestone on Castle Peak Road, on Wednesday 10th December 1941, following the loss of the Shing Mun Redoubt on the night of 9th/10th December. There is no evidence off fighting in this vicinity and no battle damage to the PB. The area to the north was held by 'D' Coy 5/7 Rajput Regt, commanded by Captain  Newton. This Coy were in action on 10th and 11th December. The area to the northeast was held by 'D' Coy 2/14 Punjab Regt, commanded by Captain David Mathers. This Coy was in action on 11th Dec. On Thursday 11th December, two companies ('B' and 'C' Coy) from 2/RS were heavily engaged and not Coy commanders were killed in action. At some stage during the morning these two companies withdrew down Castle Peak Road, as far as the World Pencil Factory, at Lai Chi Kok. Although the resultant gap was plugged to some extent, the weakness exposed on the left flank of the Royal Scots sector,  led to a decision to accelerate the evacuation of the Mainland. The Royal Scots were ordered to break off at dusk and were evacuated to the Island from Kowloon City and the Vehicular Ferry at Yau Ma Tei. The crew of PB 315 would have withdrawn that afternoon/evening. The Japanese Artillery Regiment that captured the position,  probably on 12th December,  would have done so unopposed. 


Major Douglas Dewe, Indian Medical Service, a POW in Singapore and on the Burma Railway

This story, and the subsequent two related posts,  is away from my usual focus on  Hong Kong. This story is about a British Indian Army Medical Doctor serving with the Indian Medical Service in Singapore who was  captured after the Fall of Singapore in February 1942. He was incarcerated at Changi and later on the Burma Railway.

Douglas Dewe was born 17th January 1908 in Somerset. He first married in 1933 at the age of twenty-five to Winnifred Warren. Tragically she died in February 1934, within a year of getting married, as a result of a ruptured appendix. In August 1934 Doulas married Rosanna (Rona) Gorrie Heggie (1912-1972). They lived initially in India and later moved to Taiping and Singapore. They had two children Roderick (1935) and Michael (1940). I became interested to learn more about Major Dewe when I happened to run across an article in the Hong Kong Daily Press dated 19th August 1941. The article reported on the breakdown of  Douglas and Rona's marriage and cited infidelity on the part of Rona with a forty-year-old rubber planter by the name of Oswald  Cutler. 

Hong Kong Daily Press 19th Aug. 1941
Being interested in family history, the article caught my attention, and  I reflected on the fact that war was already imminent and that all three parties, Douglas, Rona, and Oswald would have ended up as POWs or civilian internees. I was curious to find out more. 

After the fall of Singapore on 15th February 1942, Major Dewe was incarcerated initially in the  military POW camp at Changi. Rona and Oswald were interned in the civilian internment camp also located at Changi. Unlike Stanley Camp in Hong Kong, the civilian internees in Singapore were segregated and placed either in a men's camp or a separate women's camp. Rona registered in the name of  Rona Cutler, although  they were not married. I was able to make contact with Major Dewe's youngest son Mike who helped me with much of this information. Mike believes that by taking on the surname of Cutler, Rona may have been able to obtain visitation rights to Oswald. 

The court hearing in August had awarded Major Dewe with custody of his two sons. The marriage having broken down in 1937/1938, Major Dewe had by that time become engaged to Peggy Frampton, a divorcee whose name is mentioned on his POW record (below). In the Japanese POW record sheet, Major Dewe gave his specialisation as gynaecology and obstetrics, although he was in fact a general practitioner with good diagnostician skills and a strong understanding of tropical diseases. Mike thought this was done in order to avoid undesirable postings by his captors, but unfortunately it  was to no avail as he was transferred to the worst location of all - the Burma railway.

In April 1945, Major Dewe was transferred from the Burma railway, together with some 1,000 emaciated POWs to a new camp called Mergui Road in the south of Burma. The POWs were to be used as slave labourers to help build a road south into Thailand as an extrication route for the Japanese Army out of Burma. Major Dewe was both the senior officer in camp and the senior of the six medical officers assigned to this camp. The conditions here were said to be worse than on the Burma railway and over a third of the POWs died under the atrocious conditions.

POW Record (National Archives)
Peggy Frampton returned to India with her daughter, Ray, and with Major Dewe's two sons, Roddy and Mike.  Mike at the time was only sixteen months old, and Roddy was five-years-old. They were able to get out of Singapore on one of the last evacuation ships to leave before the Japanese overran the colony. Peggy looked after both the boys in India, but she must have given up on Major  Dewe, perhaps assuming he was dead, or perhaps unwilling to wait and find out, because she remarried during the war years. The boys, despite their young age, were sent to the famous Bishop Cotton boarding school in Simla, India. After being liberated in 1945, Major Dewe returned to India and collected his sons, and took them with him to Afghanistan where he had been posted as Medical Officer to the British Legation in Kabul. 

Oswald Cutler and Rona's relationship did not last through internment. He married Margaret Bell in February 1946 and returned to Malaya where he resumed his pre-war occupation as a planter. Rona also remarried quite soon after being liberated. This marriage did not last, and later she remarried Colonel Christopher Harold Miskin, and settled in Jersey. She passed away in 1972.

After Indian independence in 1947, Major Dewe retired from the Indian Medical Service and emigrated to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) with his wife June Fox (nee Martin) who he married in 1947, and his two sons. The marriage to June did not not last, he married again to  Paloma Hone but this marriage only lasted a year or two. In 1954 Douglas Dewe married Barbara Ward, the marriage lasted and they continued to live in Rhodesia until he retired to Pietermaritzburg, South Africa in 1975, where he passed away in 1978.

Major Douglas Dewe had lived on the edge of empire, at a time of change and in a very different world to that which we know today. He had served in India, Malaya, Singapore and Afghanistan, when they were still part of what was the British Empire. He and his fellow medical officers saved countless lives of British and allied servicemen during the brutal incarceration in Singapore and Burma. The Medical Officers had to keep working, despite their own debilitating weakness from malnutrition and the heat of the tropics. They were constantly exposed to diseases like diphtheria and dysentery.  They had to  carry out their work of saving lives with  inadequate medicine and in the absence of medical facilities, improvising where they could with medicines and equipment. The Medical Doctors, like the other POWs were weak, starved, and ill and constantly subject to the brutality of the guards. They were a cadre that received little recognition, much less than they deserved, except from the POWs themselves.


The Indian Army Medical Service was represented in Hong Kong (in 1941) by five officers:
Colonel Ashton-Rose and Captains Evans, Scriven, Strahan and Woodward.


Doctor William Frankland - Prisoner of War (POW) 

I read a recent article in the press about a 105-year-old medical doctor, Bill Franklin. He was born in 1912. He won an exhibition to Queen's College, Oxford and in 1938 qualified as a Medical Doctor at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington. When war broke out he enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corp, and just months after getting married, he was sent out to Singapore arriving just before war started in December 1941. On arrival, he and a colleague tossed coin to choose between a posting to the British Military Hospital (Alexandra Hospital), or  a posting to the hospital at Tanglin Barracks. Frankland won the toss and chose Tanglin. He chose right, because his colleague was killed at the Alexandra Military Hospital when the Japanese broke in and massacred  patients and medical staff on Valentines Day 1942, the day before Singapore fell. 

Blakang Mati Artillery Barracks in 1948
After the fall of Singapore, Frankland was sent to Changi, where he may have known Major Dewe,  since both were Medical Officers. Later Frankland was transferred to Blakang Mati Island now known as Sentosa where he remained until liberation in 1945. The POWs were held in the former Artillery barracks and after liberation these barracks were used to intern  Japanese troops. In 1945 Bill Frankland was flown from Singapore to Rangoon in Burma where he was due to board a repatriation ship going back to UK. There were three Dakotas, and one off them crashed after running into a storm, Frankland had chosen the right aircraft. In 1946 he resumed his medical career in London. 


Alexandra Hospital  - British Military Hospital, Singapore

In a similar incident to that which occurred at St Stephen's College Temporary Hospital in Stanley, Hong Kong; Japanese troops massacred a large number of patients and medical staff over a two day period on 14th and 15th February 1942. The hospital with a capacity for up to 1,000 patients was built in 1938 and opened in 1940. The new British Military Hospital was an upgrade to the previous main Military Hospital at Tanglin Barracks.

The Japanese were first seen approaching the hospital in the early afternoon on 14th February 1942 (Valentines Day). They numbered approximately one hundred. The hospital was clearly marked with red crosses. The orderlies and medical staff had red cross brassards. A British RAMC officer went out to meet the approaching Japanese stating that it was a hospital. He was fired on by the approaching troops, but was able to get back inside the hospital. Soon after this the Japanese broke in and ran amok stabbing, beating and killing anybody in their path. As in Hong Kong, patients were bayoneted in their beds. It was an orgy of uncontrolled violence  against wounded patients and non-combatant medical staff. At least fifty were killed and many more wounded. One patient was even killed on the operating table. The theatre staff who had surrendered with their arms above their heads were butchered with bayonets.

A number of patients and orderlies were led out to the lawn, they were tied up and marched to some nearby outhouses. Those that could not march because of their wounds, were cut loose and killed. The rest were crammed into small rooms and given no food or water. There was no sanitation and no ventilation. Several died during the night. The next day the Japanese soldiers brought them out in small groups on the pretext of their being allowed to collect water, but instead the Japanese systematically bayoneted them to death. Another one hundred patients and medical orderlies were killed in this gruesome way. Later that day on 15th February Singapore surrendered. 
British Military Hospital - Singapore

Some survived the killing by feigning death, others were simply lucky that their wounds were not fatal, and they lived to tell the tale. I watched a televised interview with one of the survivors, he like many of those that survived, even years later, never forgave the Japanese for such barbarous, inhumane and appalling acts of violence. 


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