Saturday, 4 November 2017

Captain Ian Blair 2/14 Punjab Sgt.

I was in contact with Mark Burch whose grandfather Captain Ian James Blair served with 2nd Battalion 14th Punjab Regiment in the Battle for Hong Kong. The photograph below shows Captain Blair after liberation with a captured Japanese military sword.

Captain Ian Blair (Courtesy Mark Burch)
Ian Blair was born in Gisborne, New Zealand on 5 May 1915. As a young man he made his way to British East India, where, in 1937, he was employed by one of the sugar plantation companies operating near Chakia, in Bihar State. He joined the local Planters Light Horse militia and was later called up to serve in the British Indian Army.

In March 1938, at the age of twenty-three, he was commissioned into the Central India Horse (21st King George V's Own Horse), a regular British Indian Army cavalry regiment. He later transferred to the 2nd Battalion of the 14th Punjab Regiment. In October 1940, his battalion, which in 1941 was commanded by Lt-Col Gerald Kidd, was sent to Hong Kong.

When the Pacific war started in December 1941, Ian Blair was serving as a Captain in 'C' Coy which was commanded by Major George Gray. 'C' Coy was designated as Forward Troops and was based at Fan Ling to watch over the frontier also referred to as the "outer line." Their role when the war started was to guard the Royal Engineers demolitions teams who were carrying out demolitions at the frontier and on roads, railways, cuttings and bridges leading from the frontier towards Kowloon and the "inner line" of defence known as the Gin Drinkers Line. These demolitions were intended to slow the Japanese advance and buy time on the mainland to facilitate the destruction of infrastructure, oil facilities, ports and factories in Kowloon. In addition to guarding the demolition teams, 'C' Coy was to harass, disrupt and slow the enemy. Captain Blair's company of Punjabis were the first British troops to go into action against Japanese ground forces. One battalion of Colonel Tanaka's 229th Infantry Regiment advanced from the frontier, at Sha Tao Kok, towards Fan Ling but decided to take a short cut to Tai Po by way of hill tracks through the Sha Lo Tung Hills.

"Gray alerted his rearguard commander, Captain Ian Blair. Quickly Blair sited every available machine gun to bear upon the thin, rocky trail. Still oblivious, the Japanese marched boldly into the range of Blair's guns. Nearer and nearer they approached, while Blair waited. The target area filled with men and animals [mules]. Finally, he gave the order: Fire! For two minutes every rifle and Bren gun in 'C' Company poured fire into the trapped Japanese column Then slowly the dust and din of fire abated. The air filled with the cheers of the Punjabis. They had drawn first blood."  (Season of Storms Robert L Gandt (1982) p.52).

The Forward Troops achieved their objective of guarding and facilitating the demolitions and engaging the advancing Japanese troops. At Tai Po, it was one company facing a battalion. Major-General Maltby wrote in his Report on Operations that they had "fulfilled their role admirably, and had inflicted some one hundred casualties to the Japanese at no real cost to themselves."

After the surrender Captain Blair was incarcerated at Sham Shui Po (SSP) Camp from 29th December to 20th April 1942, and at Argyle Street Officers Camp from April 1942 to May 1944 and then back to SSP Camp from 1944 until liberation in August 1945. He was repatriated to New Zealand in a very weak condition, but he had survived the fighting and the brutal incarceration and he made it home.

He had joined the Army aged twenty-three, fought in the Battle for Hong Kong aged twenty-six, and after nearly fours years incarceration was released aged thirty, having given most of his twenties to the service of his country. He died aged eighty-three in 1998. The captured sword, which he holds in the photograph,  is now in the proud possession of his grandson. 



Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Marie Gwendoline Paterson - Rape of ANS Nurses at Jockey Club Hospital

In December 1941, the Hong Kong Jockey Club grandstand at Happy Valley Racecourse was being used as a Temporary Civilian Hospital. A number of European and Chinese volunteer ANS nurses worked there during the Battle of Hong Kong. As the fighting drew closer, the hospital found itself on the frontline and on Christmas morning when Japanese soldiers entered the hospital a number of the terrified nurses were abused and raped. One of the nurses working there was Marie Peterson. She was forty-five-years-old and worked as a teacher at Queen's College. She managed to escape from the hospital, whilst the abuse of the nurses was going on. She darkened her face, by smearing herself with dirt, and used an Amah's robe and hair covering to disguise herself. Although the colony had surrendered on Christmas Day, the rape and abuse at the Jockey Club hospital carried ion that day and night. In the middle of the night, Marie got out of the building, avoiding the Japanese sentries, and crossed the road into the Colonial Cemetery opposite the Jockey Club stands. She crawled through the cemetery avoiding Japanese patrols and made her way up the steep hillside and eventually reached Bowen Road and the British Military Hospital where she reported to British Authorities what had happened at the hospital. Gwen Dew in Prisoner of the Japs (1942) described her admiration for this brave nurse.
To this woman who risked death to bring help rather than submit to degradation, I offer my highest homage - Marie Paterson, I commend you to the list of heroines of the war.
Marie is also mentioned by Mabel W. Redwood in her autobiography It was like this (2001). Mabel Redwood was an ANS nurse at the Jockey Club Hospital. She recalls the Japanese entering the hospital on Christmas morning with a hostage who they recognised as a well known Anglo-Indian doctor. 

The Jockey Club Grandstand and the cemetery (Source: Racing Memories HK)
Jockey Club Stands and Cemetery (Source: Pinterest)
Marie Da Roza, a young Portuguese nurse recounted the arrival of the Japanese in a deposition she made after the war.
I was standing at the Jockey Club entrance when Dr Arculli was brought in at the point of a revolver, the Japanese soldier had tied a rope round his waist and was using him as a shield. We were taken into the tote and guarded at both ends. Japanese soldiers came pounding in, all day they were taking Chinese nurses upstairs on the first and second floors and when the girls came down alone, one by one, they were crying their eyes out, they had been raped. The nursing sisters did all they could to help them but it was impossible to do anything to prevent them being taken up again and again.
Marie Da Roza testified how the European nurses rolled bandages, whilst some carried on nursing, but all were terrified by what was happening in the hospital and dreading that they would be next. She described how one nurse carried a dead baby for hours in the hope that the Japanese would leave her alone. That night being Christmas night several of the European nurses were dragged away and raped. Marie Da Rosa managed to hide under a camp bed and from her hiding position she could see the Japanese shining torches and dragging girls from under the tables. The ordeal lasted all day and all night. As a result of Marie Paterson's escape, the Director of Medical Services, Dr Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke, organised by liaison with the Japanese medical authorities for ambulances to evacuate the hospital including the nurses on 26 December. The nurses were taken to Queen Mary Hospital.  

So who was Marie Paterson and what became of her? I was not able to find out very much, but I discovered she was born in Grenada in the British West Indies. Her parents lived there and I believe her father worked there a medical doctor. She became a school teacher, teaching in Singapore and Hong Kong before the war. She was interned at Stanley Camp until liberation in 1945. In August 1946 she is recorded on passenger lists as travelling from Mombassa to Liverpool. She then appears to have resided in Middlesex from 1946 through to 1953 and appears on electoral rolls during that period. On 31 December 1953, there is a report of her marriage at the Scottish Church in Grenada to war hero, Air Commodore Frederick Laurence Pearce, RAF (Rtd), CBE, DSO, DFC, MiD. He retired from the Air Force in March 1952. She was fifty-seven years old at the time. I believe they settled in Grenada. Frederick Pearce died in December 1975.