Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Ensign Thomas Deacon wounded at Quatre Bras and a daughter born during the Battle of Waterloo

The Battle of Waterloo was fought on Sunday, 18 June 1815. It was a contest between the coalition of Britain, Prussia, the United Kingdom of the Netherlands including Belgium, and the Germanic States of Hanover, Nassau and Brunswick; and against the re-assembled French Army under the command of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Bonaparte had escaped from exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba in February 1815. He landed at Antibes in the South of France with his personal escort of 600 men and marched towards Paris. Louis XVIII, the newly restored King of France sent an army to stop him, but the army allied themselves with the old Emperor and joined his ranks. The King, a constitutional monarch, who had spent so much of his life in exile, fled Paris and Bonaparte marched into Paris, unopposed, at the head of a large and still growing army.
   The coalition included Russia and Austria, but they were not able to raise their respective armies in time for military intervention. The coalition formed two armies, a British Army and their Dutch and Germanic allies, under the command of the Duke of Wellington, and a Prussian Army under Field Marshal Von Blucher. The British Army included the King's German Legion mainly comprised of Hanoverians who had fled to Britain to serve in the military with the aim of freeing their homeland from Napoleonic occupation. In June 1815, Bonaparte left Paris at the head of an army of some 123,000 men and 360 guns with the intent of defeating the two opposing armies before they could come together. The defeat of the two armies would open the way for the subjugation of continental Europe.
   Lord George Byron, the romantic poet and adventurist, described the allied countries, in his lengthy epic poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, as the 'United Nations', and in so doing, gave rise to the moniker that replaced the League of Nations. It was a massive set-piece battle that from the outset stirred the imagination of Georgian Britain and the rest of Europe. It was a clash between the nation states of Europe and the concept of the French-controlled superstate. The victory brought peace to Europe for some 100 years.
    Charlotte, the Duchess of Richmond, hosted a ball in Brussels on the night of 15 June. It was attended by the Duke of Wellington with his officers, many of whom were accompanied by their ladies, who had come out to Brussels to be with their husbands. It was by all accounts a grand occasion.

The Duchess of Richmond's Ball by R.A. Hillingford
Byron captured the essence of the evening so vividly in his poem The Eve of Waterloo. He describes how the ball was interrupted by the cacophony of the cannon's opening roar. It was a call to arms, the army of Napoleon Bonaparte was heading to Brussels.
There was a sound of revelry by night, And Belgium's capital had gathered then Her beauty and her chivalry, and bright The lamps shone o'er fair women and brave men; A thousand hearts beat happily, and when Music arose with its voluptuous swell, Soft eyes looked love to eyes which spake again, And all went merry as a marriage-bell; But hush! hark! a deep sound strikes like a rising knell!  
The opening battle was fought at Quatre Bras on 16th June, and the main battle two days later at a location on rising ground south of the village of Waterloo. The battlefield is still a very popular tourist destination, just as it was in the 19th century. The topography has been somewhat altered by the amount of soil dug up for the construction of the Butte du Lion (the Lion Mound) seen in the photograph below. The construction of the mound was commissioned by King William of the Netherlands in 1820 and was completed in 1826 near the spot where his son, the Prince of Orange, was wounded in the battle.

The Writer on the Battlefield of Waterloo with Butte du Lion in the background


You can ascend to the base of the lion by a steep flight of steps. The platform below the lion provides in one coup d'oeil a 360-degree view of the battlefield, the sunken lane, and the farmhouses of La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont. The mound commemorates all those who fought, and the many who died, at Waterloo and Quatre Bras. There is also a circular building near the mound that is called the panorama. It houses a painting 360 foot long and 39 foot high that was commissioned in 1912. 

    I am digressing, so let me now return to the subject of this post. He was a young officer, an Ensign, by the name of Thomas Deacon who fought at Quatre Bras and was wounded in the battle. His pregnant wife with two young children walked from Quatre Bras to Brussels searching for her wounded husband. She found him in a military hospital in Brussels. She by then was exhausted, famished, sick and wet-through. Her baby was delivered that night on 18 June and named Waterloo Deacon.

    I first heard of Thomas Deacon when reading a book with the rather grand title Recollections of Military Service, in 1813, 1814, and 1815 through Germany, Holland, and France including some details of the Battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo. The book was written by Sgt Thomas Morris who served with the 73rd Regiment of Foot. It was first published in 1845 and is one of several first-hand accounts of the battle. 





    Whilst advancing under fire through the rye fields at Quatre Bras, Sgt Morris recalled that Ensign Deacon was on his right-hand side. On his left was Private Sam Shortly. Pte Shortly was killed outright by a musket ball to the forehead. Ensign Deacon was severely wounded by a musket ball that passed through his arm. The young officer withdrew to the rear to get his wounded arm dressed and attended. Deacon had been accompanied by his wife Martha and their two children who were somewhere in the rear. After having his wound dressed he looked for his wife but was unable to find her, and was later put on baggage-train to Brussels for hospitalisation. Martha heard from soldiers from  her husband's battalion that her husband had been wounded and conveyed to Brussels.

28th Regiment of Foot form a square to fend off French cavalry at Quatre Bras (by Lady Butler)
Martha and her two young children, Louisa Maria (b. 1809) and Charles Clemments (b. 1811) walked all the way to Brussels, a journey of some twenty miles.
'Conveyances there were none to be had, and she was in in the last stage of pregnancy, but encouraged by the hope of finding her husband, she made the best of her way on foot, with her children, exposed to the violence of the terrific storm of thunder, lightning, and rain, which continued without intermission for about ten hours. Faint, exhausted and wet to the skin, having no other clothes than a black silk dress and light shawl, she yet happily surmounted these difficulties, reached Brussels on the morning of 18th, and found her husband in very comfortable quarters, where she was also accommodated; the next day giving birth to a fine girl, which was afterwards christened Waterloo Deacon.' (Sgt Thomas Morris)
Thomas Deacon was born in 1788. He married Martha Ann Durrand on 31 August 1809. They married at St George's Church in Hanover Square. They were both aged twenty-one. She was the daughter of John Hodson Durand, who was Member of Parliament for Maidstone from 1802 to 1806. She appears to have been from a well-to-do family. However, I can not find much information on Thomas Deacon. I wonder whether he may have been a soldier in the rank and file. This is pure speculation but if he was an NCO, rather than a commissioned officer their marriage may not have been approved by her family and she may not have received financial support. Their first daughter Louisa was born in Woolwich, an Army depot, in 1809, in the same year in which they married. Suggesting the marriage may have been a necessity.  Their son Charles Clements was born in Hythe in 1811, another Army garrison town. This suggests that Thomas Deacon may have been in the Army before he was commissioned in the 73rd Regiment in April 1813 at the rather late age of twenty-five.  It would not be late if he had been commissioned from the ranks. We know his commission was not purchased. At that time officers in the cavalry and infantry regiments generally purchased commissions. There were exceptions, for example, the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers commissioned those who had attended training courses at their depots, and promoted on merit and seniority. During the Napoleonic Wars, there was a shortage of officers which was not filled by those willing to purchase a commission in the normal way. Gentlemen generally purchased commissions, and there was a derogatory term of 'not quite gentlemen' for some officers commissioned other than by purchase, for example by merit on the battlefield. There were some officers who were gentlemen, but impecunious, and could not afford to purchase a commission. Some of these joined as rank and file but messed with the officers. They looked to distinguish themselves during battle to win a commission.  Perhaps Deacon was one of these.
   Gordon Corrigan in Waterloo A New History of the Battle and its Armies  (2014) sets out the cost of purchasing a commission as an Ensign as being £900 for the prestigious Foot Guards and £400 in the Line infantry. The purchase price would be nine and four times the annual salary of an ensign. A sergeant could be commissioned without purchase following gallantry on the battlefield or a record of long service and good conduct. Gordon Corrigan suggests that as many as 10 per cent of officers at Waterloo had been commissioned from the ranks. Officers commissioned from the ranks were particularly useful as Adjutants as they were responsible for drilling, which was vital in battle in getting men into position and to form squares etc. Deacon served as an Adjutant in Ceylon.
    Waterloo Deacon, born 18 June 1815 during the Battle of Waterloo, was in fact christened Isabella Fleura Waterloo Deacon. After recovering from his wound, Thomas Deacon was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and was sent out to India and Ceylon. During Deacon's service in the Far East, Martha had five more children, but four of these died in infancy. Thomas Deacon reached the rank of Brevet Major in 1846. He died in 1853, whilst still serving in the Army, at the late age of sixty-five. He was buried in Madras, Southern India. Martha his loyal, long-suffering wife, died in 1855.
    As for Isabella Fleura Waterloo Deacon, as far as I can see she never married. She lived a long life and died in 1900 in Southsea, Hampshire. The local newspaper The Hampshire Advertiser reports the death of Isabella Fleura W. Deacon. I wonder whether she had stopped using Waterloo in her name. At the time of her death, she had been living with her niece who was the daughter of her brother, Charles Clements Deacon, who had walked, with his mother and sister from Quatre Bras to Brussels where Isabella was born in a military hospital just as the Battle of Waterloo unfolded and changed the history of Europe.



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Main Sources:

Recollections of military service in 1813, 1814, and 1815  by Thomas Morris

Ancesty.com

A blog entitled All things Georgian www.georgianera.wordpress.com








Wednesday, 3 October 2018

S/Sgt Henry James Gordon Ross, Royal Army Medical Corps

There were so many unsung heroes who died during the Battle for Hong Kong and one of these was Staff Sergeant Henry James Gordon Ross, RAMC. He was born in June 1917, during one world war, and died during the next world war. He was aged twenty-six when he died in Japan on 15 May 1944. He had endured the sinking of the Lisbon Maru in October 1942, and the brutal incarceration at prisoner-of-war camps in Hong Kong, and in Kobe, Japan. 
A memorial in Yokohama
I'm only sorry that I know so little about him. He was born in London and baptised at the Church of the Holy Redeemer in Islington. His father shared the same first names. His father predeceased his mother, Clara. His small estate of GBP321 went to his widowed mother. She probably only heard of his death after the war ended in 1945.
   The words on his memorial stone are very fitting. "He thought of others, never himself, gave his life helping his comrades." When the Japanese armed freighter Lisbon Maru sank after being torpedoed by an American submarine, Ross was characteristically helping others rather than trying to save his own life.  Here is a report by Surgeon Lt Charles Anthony Jackson, RN which speaks of S/St Ross's exemplary conduct. 
I climbed out of the forward hold [No. 1 Hold]. I found the Japanese had abandoned the ship. S/Sgt Ross, RAMC, reported that he had a number of injured and sick mustered on deck from the holds aft. Between us we managed to render first aid and reassured disabled men. I was myself picked up after about four hours together with S/Sgt Ross and such ailing men as we had been able to keep with us. Throughout this period and subsequently as the medical orderly in charge at Kobe Camp, S/Sgt Ross, RAMC, displayed great devotion to duty and courage.
He saved many lives and eased the suffering of others whilst at Kobe Camp. He is remembered by Captain Martin Weedon, 1/Mx, a POW at Kobe. 
He died of beri-beri on top of a stomach ulcer. Very sad as he has done more than anyone for the sick. I owe my life to him when I had diptheria. 
He was starved to death by the Japanese who provided insufficient food and medicine and forced their prisoners of war to carry out slave labour in docks, mines and factories. So many lives were lost needlessly to malnutrition. At such a young age he devoted himself to alleviating suffering in others.  For one so deserving, he never had the chance to marry, or know fatherhood,  and live his life. 

After the war, he was awarded a posthumous Mention in Despatches (MiD). 



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Friday, 10 August 2018

2/Lt Douglas Horace Baird, 2nd Bn Royal Scots

Douglas Baird was born in Valparaiso, Chile on 27th August 1917. His father William Baird was born in Ayrshire, Scotland, and later emigrated to Chile. William Baird married Ellen (née Hooper), who was of Cornish descent, in 1907 in Valparaiso. I first read about Douglas Baird in a book entitled Colonial Sunset (2004) by Ralph Stephenson. Stephenson, a civil servant in peacetime, served as a Lieutenant in the Hong Kong Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (HKRNVR). On 24th December, he was wounded in the leg by a shell splinter and hospitalised. Whilst a patient, at Bowen Road Military Hospital, he found himself in the next bed to Douglas Baird.
"I was in a bed next to a soldier in the Royal Scots called Baird. He spoke with a strong Scottish accent, but it turned out he was a South American from Chile. ... He had gone to England at the outbreak of war and joined up ... We stuck together in captivity; and later in prison camp." (Source: Colonial Sunset p.95).
2/Lt  D.H. Baird (Courtesy Catherine Williams née Baird)
As a teenager, my family lived in Chile, and I have very good memories of that beautiful country. I now live in Hong Kong, and research and write about the Battle for Hong Kong. I was intrigued that an officer from Santiago de Chile had fought in the Battle for Hong Kong. Who was Douglas Baird I wondered. A search of passenger records showed Douglas, aged 23, taking passage from Chile to England in June 1940 on the SS Orbita. The passenger manifest showed the names of many other young men, of British descent, travelling on the same ship. They were returning to England to join the armed forces. As volunteers, they had to pay their own fares, and they travelled in third class, but they were well looked after by the other passengers and crew. Several were known to Douglas, and some had attended the Grange School, the same school that Douglas had attended in Santiago. It was a British school serving the Anglo-Chilean community. There was a large British community in Chile, over 50,000 Britons had settled in Chile between 1840 and 1914. Many of the British settled in the sea ports of Punta Arenas in the south, and Valparaiso close to the capital city of Santiago. When war came in 1914 and again in 1939 many young men from this community returned to Britain to serve their mother country in its hour of need. 
SS Orbita (Source: Naval-History.net)
Passenger List SS Orbita (Source: Ancestry.com)

The Orbita arrived at Liverpool docks in August 1940. The Battle of Britain was underway, and an RAF recruitment party came aboard, many of the Chilean volunteers joined the Royal Air Force. Douglas was minded to do likewise, but a friend had joined the Royal Scots and encouraged him to do the same, and he was of Scottish ancestry. He commenced recruit training at Glencorse Barracks, Auchendinny, near Edinburgh. After completing the recruit course, he was selected for officer training, which he undertook at Bulford Barracks in Wiltshire. He returned to the Royal Scots Glencorse Barracks as a Second Lieutenant. Fed up with the cold weather in Scotland, Douglas volunteered for a tropical climate posting. Douglas with three other Royal Scots officers, Lt Frank  ("Pip") Stancer , 2/Lt James Ford, and 2/Lt Geoffrey Fairbairn were assigned to the regiment's 2nd Battalion based in Hong Kong. They boarded the trooper MV Stirling Castle, and sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, and then by way of Bombay to Singapore. In South Africa, they were joined by 2/Lt Jim McGhee who had also been posted to join the Royal Scots in Hong Kong. They disembarked at Singapore, and waited for another ship to take them to Hong Kong. Here they were joined by another Royal Scot, Captain Alex Slater-Brown, who was returning to Hong Kong after completing a Bren gun carrier course in Singapore. 

On arrival in Hong Kong they were met by three officers from their battalion including Lt James Ford's brother, Captain Douglas Ford. They were shown to the officer's quarters in Victoria Barracks, and introduced to their commanding officer Lt-Col Simon White, and Major Stanford Burn, the Second-in-Command. 2/Lt Baird was assigned to 'B' Coy commanded by Captain Richardson.
"Captain Fred Richardson was a middle height, thin, red-faced man of about 45 years of age and a bachelor. He had taken part in the First World War, but was not a regular soldier. He was always very serious, had no sense of humour, and had a very precise way of speaking; he looked and acted more like a schoolteacher than an Army Officer. Captain Richardson introduced us to the Company Sergeant Major (CSM), Donald Matheson, and the Company Quartermaster Sergeant (CQMS), John Benson.  He then showed us around 'B' Company barrack rooms. McGhee took over No.10 Platoon. I took No.11, and Fairbairn No.12. The second in command of the Company was Lt Richard ("Dick") Stanton. 
"The battalion was well under strength of 1200; instead it had approximately 800 men. The platoons, which should have been composed of at least 40 men, only had about 30 men each. The reason being that the more experienced officers and non-commissioned officers had been sent to Britain after the fall of France and not fully replaced. In part we were the replacements of the officers, but very few NCO’s had been replaced only promoting corporals and men to higher positions." (Source: Dad's Story Douglas Baird's personal diary edited by his daughter Catherine Williams née Baird).
The battalion had arrived in Hong Kong from Lahore in January 1938, under the command of Lt-Col Hall. In 1938, he was succeeded by Lt-Col McDougall. McDougall had served on the Western Front, and had been wounded at Ypres, and had won the Military Cross for gallantry whilst serving with the 1st Battalion in Macedonia. In 1941 McDougall was posted to Burma, and Lt-Col Simon White took over as Battalion Commander. Lt-Col White had also served in WW1, and had won the Military Cross. He had previously served in the battalion as a Major commanding 'D' Coy.

Major-General Christopher Maltby, the Military Commander in Hong Kong, who arrived in mid 1941 to take up his appointment as General Officer Commanding (GOC) British Troops in China, was scathing about McDougall, who he felt drank too much.
"I only saw Lt Colonel McDougall for a few weeks. He was sodden with gin and completely ruined his battalion." (1) 
Major-General Maltby was also disparaging about Lt-Col Simon White, the new Battalion Commander.
"Lt-Col White was a bad CO. I suggested to Wallis (Brigadier commanding Mainland Infantry Brigade) that he should relieve him of command of the battalion, but the latter pointed out that there was no senior officer in the battalion who was any better." (2)
Douglas Baird wrote in his diary that he held Lt-Col Simon White in low esteem. Other officers in the battalion, like Captain Pinkerton and Major Walker were first class, and the junior officers like 2/Lt Baird and the other subalterns, Lieutenants and Captains fought with great bravery, and mostly against numerically superior forces. By 1941 there was a shortage of experienced officers in the battalion. The only regular officers were Lt-Col White, Major Burn, Major Pirie, Captain Cuthbertson (the Adjutant) and Captain Pinkerton. Major Walker and Captain Richardson had seen war service in WW1, but had not continued in the Army after the war. The rest of the officers, like 2/Lt Baird were holding wartime commissions.  Douglas Baird was allocated to 'B' Coy.

'B' Coy Structure

Coy Commander:    Captain Frederick Richardson
2nd in Command:    Lt Richard Stanton
CSM Donald Matheson
CQM John Benson

No. 10 Platoon:       2/Lt James McGhee
No. 11 Platoon:       2/Lt Douglas Baird
No. 12 Platoon:       2/Lt Geoffrey Fairbairn

In November 1941, the battalion was ordered to occupy their war stations on the Gin Drinkers Line (GDL). This was a defensive line, manned by three battalions, which stretched for ten miles from Gin Drinkers Bay on the west side of the Kowloon Peninsula to Port Shelter on the east side. The Royal Scots occupied the left flank of the line from Gin Drinkers Bay to the Shing Mun Redoubt. The 2/14 Punjab Regiment occupied the centre of the line, and the 5/7 Rajputs manned the right flank of the line. The GDL was sometimes referred to as the Inner Line with the Outer Line being the frontier with China.

The Gin Drinkers Line (blue arrows show the Japanese advance ) - (National Archives, UK)

Royal Scots initial positions on the GDL (marked in red A, B, C & D)  (National Archives - UK)
2/Lt Baird's company ('B' Coy) was in the middle of the Royal Scots sector of the GDL.
"McGhee's platoon (No. 10) was on my left, and had a pillbox next to Castle Peak Road. My platoon (No. 11) was in the middle, in slit trenches with Coy HQ behind me. Fairbairn's platoon (No. 12) was on my right, also in slit trenches. Company HQ had a concrete room (splinter proof shelter) with four bunks where Captain Richardson and Lt Dick Stanton slept, and were communicated by telephone with each of our platoons and with Battalion HQ."  (Source: Dad's Story courtesy Catherine Williams)  
In the first two weeks, the platoons concentrated on improving their defences and laying Dannert wire (concertina wire entanglements). There were gaps between battalion positions, company positions and platoon positions. Three battalions were insufficient to man a defensive line of that length. 2/Lt Baird recalled that there was a gap of nearly half a mile between the platoon on his left and likewise on his right. They tried to cover the gaps through interlocking fire. The battalion was considerably under strength at around 780 men. A number officers and senior NCOs had been milked to serve in other theatres of war. To add to this difficulty the battalion was badly affected by malaria, and a number of men were hospitalised with this debilitating sickness.

The war started on Monday 8th December. 2/Lt Baird had been over to Battalion HQ, located at the Skeet Ground on Castle Peak Road, near the 6th milestone, and a mile or two back from 'B' Coy's positions on Pineapple Ridge. Pineapple Ridge ran up from the Texaco Peninsula to Pineapple Dam at the Jubilee Reservoir, and the strong point known as the Shing Mun Redoubt. Whilst on his way to Bn HQ, he heard the sound of Japanese aircraft flying overhead, and later the sound of explosions as Kai Tak Airfield and other parts of Kowloon were bombed and strafed. That morning Japanese troops crossed the Outer Line, and moved southwards towards the GDL. When 2/Lt Baird got back to his platoon positions, he found that his Platoon Sergeant, Sam Dunsmore, had seen to the removal of tents, and that the platoon was standing too, and occupying their slit trenches.

In front of the line, further up Castle Peak Road, were the Forward Troops and Royal Engineers demolition parties. The Forward Troops included the battalion's Bren gun carrier platoon commanded by Captain Alex Slater-Brown, and two armoured cars from the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC). These troops were commanded by Major Stamford Burn. The Royal Engineers were responsible  for blowing up road bridges, and road cuttings, in order to slow the Japanese advance towards the GDL. During the first day, three-man commando units were sent out to watch and probe the hill passes for Japanese patrols. Two of the Royal Scots commando units were in action against forward Japanese troops on Monday night. It rained during the night, making the trenches muddy and uncomfortable for the defenders standing too and waiting for the Japanese onslaught. The slit trenches overlooked the forward slopes of Pineapple Ridge and ran in a North East to South West direction from the reservoir towards the Texaco Peninsula and Gin Drinkers Bay.

The next night, Tuesday 9th December, the Japanese launched a surprise attack on the Shing Mun Redoubt, a complex of interconnected tunnels, pillboxes and concrete firing bays. The redoubt was on the right flank of the Royal Scot's sector. It was captured in the early hours of Wednesday 10th December. The redoubt had been manned by No. 8 Platoon, 'A' Coy 2/RS. The Coy Commander Captain Cyril ("Potato") Jones had established his Coy HQ in the Artillery Observation Post (AOP), which was located at the rear of the redoubt and connected to it by the tunnel system. On Wednesday morning, Douglas Baird recalled bullets whistling past his head whilst visiting the latrines on the rear slopes of the ridge. Their positions were coming under fire from Japanese troops who had line of sight on them from the Shing Mun Redoubt. Later Captain Richardson confirmed to 2/Lt Baird that the redoubt had been captured, and accordingly their forward positions on Pineapple Ridge had been compromised.

The loss of the Shing Mun Redoubt was a major setback and necessitated a withdrawal of the line in a southeast direction, pivoted on Golden Hill and Smugglers Ridge. Captain Richardson ordered 2/Lt Baird to work with Major Stamford Burn in establishing the new line, normally a role for Seconds-in-Command. He ordered his Second-in-Command, Lt Dick Stanton, to take over Douglas Baird's No. 11 Platoon. (3) The new line ran from Castle Peak Road on the Lai Chi Kok Peninsula, and then up the slopes of Golden Hill to the ridge-line to the right of the road. 'D' Coy, formerly the battalion reserve company, commanded by Captain Pinkerton, moved forward to occupy the northern end of the Golden Hill ridge line.

'B' Coy's new position was on the left of the line. 'C' Coy was moved forward and more to the right of 'B' Coy. Their right-hand platoons extending up Golden Hill. 'A' Coy were withdrawn, from their positions near Jubilee Reservoir, and moved by motor transport from Golden Hill Road to a position astride Castle Peak Road behind 'B' and 'C' Coy. The new positions of 'A' Coy were just to the north of the Lai Chi Kok Hospital, now the Jao Tsung-I Academy.

Royal Scots positions from 10th Dec. (marked A2, B2, C2 and D2) (National Archives)
On 10th December 1941, Advanced Battalion HQ fell back from the Skeet Ground to Filters House near the Water Department's Filter Beds at Piper's Hill. Major Burn's Forward Troops had moved back behind the GDL, and Major Burn had established Rear Battalion HQ at the World Pencil Factory on Castle Peak Road, not far from the junction with Tai Po Road.

Rear Bn HQ at Pencil Factory and Bn HQ at Filter Beds. (Govt Maps Office)
A discussion on Facebook Group Battle of Hong Kong about the pencil factory resulted in a photo of the World Pencil Factory being posted by my fellow war history enthusiast Kei Fu. (See below).

Major Burn established Rear Bn HQ at the World Pencil Factory (Source: www.Uwants.com)

In the new positions, 'B' Coy had one platoon (Douglas Baird's former platoon, then under Dick Stanton), and the Coy HQ (Captain Richardson, 2/Lt Baird and CSM Matheson) astride Castle Peak Road. The other two platoons (McGhee and Fairbairn) were positioned on the ridge-line to the right of the road.   In front was 'C' Coy, under Captain Walter Rose, whose right hand platoon would link up with 'D' Coy on Golden Hill. It was an untidy front-line, because 'B' Coy was behind 'C' Coy, and 'A 'Coy behind 'B' Coy. The line had depth but not breadth, and there were gaps between platoon positions, which were wider than had been the case on Pineapple Ridge. There was inadequate wiring, insufficient trenches, and on terrain where it was difficult to dig in. There was no telephone line communication between the platoons, the companies, and nor with Bn HQ. Any communication had to be accomplished by runner.

Douglas Baird recalled that one of the Bren gun carriers delivered additional Bren guns and ammunition to their position. This resulted in them having two Bren guns per section instead of one, doubling their firepower. The next morning, on Thursday 11th December, they heard machine gun fire on the right flank. Captain Richardson, the CSM, and a runner went forward on a recce to check their two right-hand platoons up on the ridge. Whilst Richardson was conducting the recce, he and the runner were both killed. The CSM made it back to Rear Bn HQ. The exact circumstances of Captain Richardson's death were unclear. Later that morning, the Japanese 230th Regiment attacked the Royal Scots positions with two battalions. 'D' Coy on the high ground of Golden Hill bore the brunt of the attack.

2/Lt Baird had been ordered to stay with Stanton's platoon on Castle Peak Road. Two sections were positioned on the slopes to the right of the road, and one section to the left of the road. Lt Stanton took up his position with the two sections on the hillside to the right. Douglas Baird took up his position with Cpl Harold Downing's section on the left-hand side of the road. They had some natural cover from boulders, and they had a clear line of sight along Castle Peak Road.
"We didn’t have to wait long before we sighted about half a mile away a large group of Japanese soldiers coming along Castle Peak Road. We knew that if they continued coming along the road, they would appear again at a distance well within our range of fire. I went over to Stanton’s side of the road where they had also sighted the Japs. ... They appeared around the bend with one man in front bearing a small Japanese flag which we called the “fried egg”. It was the perfect place for an ambush.  We wondered later how they could have come along Castle Peak Road so confidently without even a scout in front. Our men behaved very well keeping absolutely quiet, probably holding their breath like I was, until we had them where we wanted them. I don’t remember who was the first to give the order to fire, but our six Bren guns went simultaneously into action.  The sight was fantastic, the Japs scattering all over the place, trying to get cover wherever they could and not knowing where they were being fired from. Most of them scrambled into the gutter, which ran along the hillside of the road, and we saw some go over the seaside, dropping down to the rocks below, having little chance of surviving. The road was littered with bodies, either dead or wounded. Then we witnessed an amazing action. The man who carried the flag was probably one of the first to fall, after a short while when we had held our fire, a Jap shot out of the gutter, rushed to where the flag bearer had fallen and picked up the flag. He didn’t last more than a few seconds before he was shot down. A moment later another Jap rushed out of the gutter and picked up the flag, and of course, went down also. This repeated three times before they gave up their attempt. We wondered if they had been ordered to do that, or if they did it on their own as a sheer act of bravery." (Source: Dad's Story courtesy Catherine Williams) 
Those that survived the ambush on the road, crawled back along the gutter, and no further attempt was made to advance along Castle Peak Road. The Japanese assumed the road was defended in strength, supported by troops on the ridge-line. They turned their attention to the the other two 'B' Coy platoons, and 'C' Coy, on Golden Hill Ridge. At one stage 2/Lt Baird saw 2/Lt Fairbairn's platoon retreating southwards along Golden Hill Ridge, whilst being pursued by Japanese troops. The men at Stanton's and Baird's position near the road fired at the sky-lined Japanese troops with good effect.

The 'B' and 'C' Coy platoons on Golden Hill Ridge came under heavy mortar fire, and were attacked by considerable numbers of Japanese troops. The commanding officers of both 'B' and 'C' companies were killed in action. After the Coy Commanders were killed the platoons on the ridge, withdrew presumably southwards on Golden Hill Ridge, and later intersecting Castle Peak Road. The unauthorised withdrawal by 'B' and 'C' Coy continued through 'A' Coy's positions and as far back as the World Pencil Factory. 'D' Coy, under Captain Pinkerton, held their positions on Golden Hill all day until they were ordered to withdraw in the evening, when the battalion was ordered to embark and withdraw from the Mainland.

Lt Dick Stanton and 2/Lt Douglas Baird maintained their positions on Castle Peak Road. The 'B' and 'C' Coy troops did not pass through their position. The road ahead was clear other than the Japanese dead and wounded lying in the road. Stanton and Baird remained in there forward position all morning. They had no communication, and sensed that they were in an isolated position in front of British lines. Lt Stanton, 2/Lt Baird and Sgt Dunsmore discussed the situation, and agreed that they were cut off, and decided to retire and try reach the battalion lines.
"We ordered the men to pick up the Bren guns, and as many boxes of ammunition as they could carry, and set off in single file on the sea side of Castle Peak Road. In this part the road ran further inland than the edge of the sea, we kept a sharp lookout towards Golden Hill, and set a scout about 100 yards in front of us. For more than half an hour in our retreat we saw no one. Castle Peak road was deserted, but we could hear constant firing to the left of us.  Eventually we came in contact with a few men of 'A' Company with a Sergeant, on either side of Castle Peak Road. The Sergeant informed us that Battalion HQ was a little further back at the junction of the Taipo and Castle Peak Roads." (Source: Dad's Story courtesy Catherine Williams) 
They passed through 'A' Coy positions, and made their way to Advanced Bn HQ. Lt-Col Simon White was under a lot of strain; he had seen his two left flank companies ('B' and 'C' Coy) retreating that morning. There had been a break in the line, and had the Japanese continued down Castle Peak Road it would have endangered the whole of the Mainland Brigade. Douglas Baird recalled that the Adjutant, Captain Cuthbertson, seemed to be running the Battalion HQ, and that Lt-Col White seemed to be in a state of shock, possibly caused by strain and sleep deprivation. Cuthbertson ordered Stanton and Baird to deploy their men with 'A' Coy on Castle Peak Road.

Brigadier Wallis, commanding the Mainland Infantry Brigade, had received a call from Lt-Col White that morning to say that there had been an unauthorised withdrawal by units of his two left flank companies. Wallis sent Major Stamford Burn, who had been at Brigade HQ, back to the World Pencil Factory to rally the troops, and to stop the withdrawal. Wallis stated to both Lt-Col White and Major Burn that the good name of their battalion was at stake. Major Burn tried, with limited success, to rally and deploy the troops from 'B' and 'C' Coy at the World Pencil Factory. He was to some extent out of control, and was unable to issue calm orders, and as a result he had great difficulty in getting the men to obey him. Colonel Newnham, a senior General Staff Officer from China Command, took over the job of deploying the Canadian troops from 'D' Coy Winnipeg Grenadiers, and the troops from 'B' and 'C' Coy 2/RS. He stabilised the front line and deployed Bren gun carriers and Armoured Cars and Medium Machine Gun sections from No. 1 Coy HKVDC along Castle Peak Road to prevent any Japanese exploitation southwards. That evening the decision was made to withdraw the Mainland Brigade and supporting artillery back to the Island. 

One the Island the Royal Scots were re-organised and re-equipped. 'B' and 'C' Coy were placed under the command of Major Stamford Burn and 'A' and 'D' Coy were placed under the command of Major James Pirie. In their new positions on the Island, 2/Lt Baird recalled CSM Matheson calling him aside, and saying something had happened to Major Burn. Major Burn had taken his own life with his service revolver, no doubt blaming himself for the disorder on the left flank, and his inability to control the situation at the World Pencil Factory. 
"Matheson led me to where Major Burns had made his Headquarters on a flat bit of ground running in from the road, which had a few trees. With the aid of matches we found a torch by Major Burns’ side.  He was leaning against a tree in a sitting position with his legs astride and his arms hanging by his sides. On closer inspection, I saw that there was blood at the side of his head and there was no doubt that he was dead. His revolver was by his side near his right hand.  On his lap was a closed envelope addressed presumably to his wife. I took the letter and sent it back with a note to Colonel White. A while later Major Walker, commander of HQ Company arrived with a medical Officer. Major Burns’ body was put on a truck and went back with the MO. Major Walker informed me that he was replacing Major Burns, and to get as much sleep as we could that night." (Source: Dad's Story courtesy Catherine Williams) 
The next morning,,14th December, Lt-Col White and Captain Cuthbertson arrived at 'B' Coy's position, near the White House, on Tai Hang Road.
"CSM. Matheson and I were called to join them. We were questioned on the events before and after Major Burns had taken his sad determination. They speculated on the reasons he could have had, but reached no conclusion. Finally Colonel White said to us "keep your mouths closed about this, Major Burns was killed in action, do you understand?" I seemed to have looked very surprised as I saw Captain Cuthbertson who was standing behind and a little to the side of the Colonel, nod at me, so I answered together with Matheson "yes sir."" (Source: Dad's Story courtesy Catherine Williams) 
The intention was presumably to avoid any negative effect on the moral of the troops. I wonder whether Mrs Burn ever got the letter. If she had, it would have been late in 1945 after liberation. A funeral service was conducted for Major Burn by The Rev. Gordon Bennett, the Padre, on Thursday 14th December.

The rifle companies (A,B, C and D) were placed under the command of Lieutenants who were given promotion to Temporary Captain. The rifle companies were reinforced by personnel from HQ Coy including bandsmen, drivers and what the Army calls odds and sods. Douglas Baird was moved to 'C' Coy under Temporary Captain Stancer. On 15th December the battalion handed over the pillboxes on the north shore, where they had been deployed after returning to Hong Kong Island, to 5/7th Rajputs. 2/RS Bn HQ moved to Wan Chai Gap. Douglas Baird and Frank Stancer established their Coy HQ at a house called Rookery Nook  (No. 546 The Peak) on Middle Gap Road. The name is still used today for the house that occupies the site.

The Japanese landed on the Island during the night of 18th/19th December. By 1000 hours on Friday morning they had captured Wong Nai Chung (WNC) Gap. They held the police station on top of a knoll at the centre of the gap. West Brigade HQ had been put out of action. Brigadier Lawson lay dead outside his bunker. 'A' Coy, 2/RS were sent out to try and relieve West Brigade HQ, and extricate the Brigadier and his staff. No. 8 Platoon, 'A' Coy advanced up Wong Nai Chung Gap Road, whilst No. 7 Platoon, 'A' Coy proceeded up Blue Pool Road in the valley to the left. The company had heavy casualties and although they got close to West Brigade they were forced to retire. Later that day (19th December) the whole battalion was ordered to advance to WNC Gap and recapture Jardine's Lookout. 

Route taken by 'A' Coy 2/RS on 19th Dec (Source: National Archives)
As part of the battalion attack, 2/Lt Baird, now serving with 'C' Coy, set off from Wan Chai Gap in the afternoon of Friday 19th December.  The corporals in charge of sections had been supplied with Tommy Guns. The company proceeded, with 2/Lt Baird leading the way, along Black's Link to Middle Gap, and then down to Stubbs Road, and the petrol station at the junction of Stubbs Road and Tai Hang Road. Captain Stancer decided to take two platoons up WNC Gap Road, and ordered 2/Lt Baird to take a platoon along Tai Hang Road, and then up Blue Pool Road towards the gap. It was the same route that 'A' Coy had taken that morning, and where they had incurred such heavy casualties.  

Route taken (red line) by 'C' Coy on 19th Dec (Source: Govt Maps Office annotations by the writer)
"It was getting dark when we started climbing the hill. We hadn’t got very far when we reached Wong Nai Chung Gap Road. I halted the platoon and crept forward with a Corporal to inspect the road more closely. Stancers group had been held up further down the road (WNC Gap Road) by machine gun fire. In front of me was one of the Bren carriers. I told the Corporal to wait for me while I crawled behind the Bren carrier. I mounted it from the back and got inside it. There were three bodies on the floor. One was that of Captain Slater-Brown, a Sergeant and a Lance Corporal. I took each of their identity discs. Darkness had set in by the time I got out of the carrier and returned to the Corporal and platoon. I gave Sgt Vine instructions to stay where they were, while I made my way back along the lower side of the road to where Stancer’s group was. Stancer had received no further orders so had decided to stay where he was for the night (19/20th).  My platoon being more advanced, I agreed to send a patrol as far as they could get to Wong Nai Chung Gap. When I got back to where I had left the platoon, I ordered Corporal Gary with three men of his section to set out on patrol skirting the road to Wong Nai Chung Gap. They returned sooner than expected. Corporal Gary informed me that they hadn’t come across anybody and had reached the small police station there in the Gap and found nobody there so had returned. Early next morning before daylight I reached Stancer and informed him about the patrol. Stancer decided to move his group to where I had my platoon, as it was a more forward position and offered better cover." 
(Source: Dad's Story courtesy Catherine Williams)  
The police station had been seized by the gunners from the Hong Kong Singapore Royal Artillery (HKSRA) fighting as infantry during the night 19/20th, but it had only been held for a few hours. The Japanese with more than four battalions at WNC Gap were able to send in reinforcements and recapture the knoll. It rained during the night, and the next morning 'C' Coy was subjected to a heavy mortar barrage. Captain Stancer was injured in the head by shrapnel, and helped back to Tai Hang Road by his runner, and from there, to hospital. When his runner returned, he brought a message from the adjutant to keep 'C' Coy in position while 'B' Coy mounted an attack on Jardine's Lookout. The mortar barrage continued throughout the 20th December. Baird could see the location of the enemy mortar. He sent a message back to Bn HQ asking for a mortar to be sent up so that they could put the Japanese position out of action. They were told that there was no mortar ammunition. 
"At about 1600 hrs we noticed movement in front of us in the undergrowth. Visibility was poor and we had to be careful as 'B' Company could be somewhere out there, but much to the right of us. I gave an order that no firing was to be done without orders, unless we were sure that it was the enemy. The movement came rapidly closer with shouts in English not to fire, soon men from 'B' Company appeared in front of us. They were retreating from their attempted attack on Jardine's lookout. We saw that many were wounded. Amongst them was Dick Stanton who came through holding his stomach with both hands. He was held up from his armpits and practically dragged by a couple of his men. He died in Bowen Road Hospital the next day. The remainder of 'B' Company who were fit, were distributed amongst the platoons of 'C' Company." (Source: Dad's Story courtesy Catherine Williams) 
The next morning, 21st December, 'B' and 'C' Coy's combined positions were again subjected to a mortar barrage. Captain Cuthbert, instructed that another attempt would be made to dislodge Japanese troops from Jardine's Lookout. 2/Lt Baird informed his platoons and gave the order to advance.
"I took the lead working my way up hill through thick undergrowth.  I hadn’t got very far when I saw something move not more than thirty yards in front of me. I managed to see a head and a Japanese helmet, but he saw me first. A burst of machinegun rattled off instantly. I fell backwards and felt a sharp pain on my left leg and left hand. Fortunately, on falling backwards I was out of sight of the Jap who had fired. Two bullets had gone through my leg just below the knee, smashing the backbone of the leg and severing the main artery.  With the help of my runner, Private Ramsay, I got rid of my haversack and crawled down to the road. Evidently the Japs had started an attack on us at the same time as we decided to climb the hill. I was bleeding profusely; my trousers soon became soaked in blood. On reaching the road, Ramsay with the help of Sgt Vine who was coming at the rear of the Company applied a tourniquet with a rifle pull-through above my knee to try and stop the flow of blood." (Source: Dad's Story courtesy Catherine Williams) 
On reaching the road he was put in a truck and taken to Bowen Road Military Hospital. He was left on a stretcher outside the operating theatre in a row consisting of a number of other badly wounded soldiers on stretchers.  Those that were likely to survive were operated on first. Douglas Baird had lost so much blood, and his pulse was so weak that he was almost given up for dead. It was only because Major Bowie, RAMC, heard him talking that he reached the operating table. He recovered from the operation, and was fully conscious by Christmas Day when Hong Kong surrendered. He remained in hospital until April 1942 when he was released and sent to Sham Shui Po Prisoner of War Camp. Later he was moved to Argyle Street Camp. 

In September 1942, he boarded the Japanese freighter the Lisbon Maru together with some 1,800 British prisoners of war who were being transported to Japan to work as slave labourers in Japanese mines, docks and factories. The ship was armed fore and aft, and had no markings to indicate that it was carrying POWs. The ship was sunk by an American submarine, some eight hundred POWs lost their lives. Douglas Baird was one of the lucky ones. He survived the sinking and the subsequent brutal incarceration in Japan. Following liberation in September 1945, Douglas returned to England. He met the girl, Anne Mary Roddam Shield, that he had left behind when he was posted to Hong Kong in 1941. They had met briefly before he sailed for Hong Kong, and they renewed their relationship when he got back. They married in March 1946. The photo below shows Douglas in the uniform of a Captain in the Royal Scots at his wedding.

The wedding in March 1946
Douglas and his new wife sailed for Santiago de Chile in June 1946, some six years after he had left home to go to war. He and Ann had a son and two daughters. Ann passed away in 1989, and Douglas passed away in 2011 at the grand old age of ninety-four. His diary provides a fascinating account of the Battle for Hong Kong through the eyes of a young officer in the Royal Scots, who was always in the thick of the action. He survived the battle, he survived his gunshot wounds, he survived the brutal incarceration in both Hong Kong and Japan, and he survived the tragic sinking of the Lisbon Maru. A remarkable man, who did his duty, served his country, led his men in battle, and made it home.

...................


Acknowledgments
I am very grateful to Douglas Baird's daughter Catherine Williams for her help with this story, and for letting me have access to her father's diary Dad's Story. It had been written in a series of exercise books and bits of paper. It was painstakingly typed up by Catherine, and a small number were printed and distributed to members of the family to preserve her father's memories.

Notes
(1)  National Archives (CAB 44/175)
(2)  National Archives (CAB 44/175)
(3)  Augustus Muir in The First of Foot - The History of the Royal Scots stated it was No 10 platoon.



............



Monday, 6 August 2018

Captain Kenneth Allanson, Royal Artillery - The Battle for Hong Kong

Kenneth Edward Allanson was born in 1912 in Woking, Surrey. He was the youngest of five siblings, with two brothers and two sisters. The family moved to Lee Green, South London in the late 1920s. After leaving school Kenneth trained and qualified as a solicitor. Law Society records show that he was admitted in 1933 at the age of twenty-one. He was a member of the law firm Bate & Co. of Lincoln's Inn.

In 1938 he joined the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC), a Territorial Army unit based in the City of London. His eldest brother, James Allanson, had already joined the Territorial Army some years earlier, and initially served with a London based field artillery regiment, which later converted to an anti-tank role. During WW2 his regiment formed part of the 51st Highland Division and he served in North Africa and Italy. Kenneth's brother, Harold Allanson, had been resident in Burma before the war. During the war, he served with Z Force in Burma, a special forces unit operating behind enemy lines, and providing intelligence to 14th Army HQ on Japanese forces, movements and logistics.

Kenneth was mobilised after the outbreak of war and selected for officer training. In May 1940, at the age of twenty-eight, he was commissioned as a subaltern in the Royal Artillery. He was subsequently posted to Hong Kong, and fought in the short, but brutal Battle for Hong Kong in December 1941.

2/Lt Kenneth Allanson (Courtesy of Christopher Allanson)
Commissioned as a 2/Lt (London Gazette)
In Hong Kong Kenneth served with 8th Coast Regiment, Eastern Fire Command. The regiment was commanded by Lt-Col Selby Shaw, MC, RA. He was assigned to 12th Coast Battery which was located at Stanley Fort. The battery consisted of three Mark VII 9.2-inch coastal defence guns. The battery was commanded by Major William Stevenson, RA.

 8th Coast Regiment, RA (Source: Major Templer's Diary Imperial War Museum)
The coastal defence of Hong Kong in December 1941 was formidable. Eastern Fire Command consisted of two 9.2-inch batteries (Bokhara and Stanley), and four 6-inch batteries (Collinson, Chung Hom Kok, Bluff Head and Pak Sha Wan, and one 4-inch battery at D'Aguilar. Western Fire Command consisted of a battery of three 9.2-inch guns at Fort Davis and two 6-inch batteries (Stonecutters and Jubilee), one 4-inch battery on Aberdeen Island and two 60-pdrs on Stonecutters Island. The coastal defence batteries covered all the seaward approaches to Hong Kong.

The Royal Navy had established minefields, consisting of both contact mines and remote controlled mines, around the approaches to Hong Kong. Indicator loops had been laid on the seabed, which could detect the movement of enemy ships or submarines. This information could then be relayed to the coastal defence batteries, or to the mine control stations, and the intruding vessel could then be sunk by gunfire, or by remote controlled mines. The photograph below shows one of the 9.2-inch coastal defence guns at Fort Davis.  

9.2-inch gun at Fort Davis (Source: Wikipedia)
The combination of coastal defence batteries, minefields, and the presence of fast motor torpedo boats ensured that the Japanese Navy stayed well back. As in Singapore, the guns were pointing seaward, but that is what they were designed for. These were coastal defence batteries built to defend Hong Kong from seaborne attack or invasion. They were mostly equipped with armour piercing shells for use against enemy warships, but had insufficient quantities of high explosive and shrapnel ammunition required for landward firing. Many of the coastal defence guns, including the three 9.2-inch batteries could traverse and fire inland, and they were used very effectively in this capacity, despite the shortage of suitable ammunition. The guns at some of the coastal batteries, like Jubilee, were situated too low, and were blocked by terrain, which prevented them from firing in a landward direction.

Map of Hong Kong Island (Source: HK Govt. Maps Office)

Sketch Map of HK Island (Source: Writer)


The infantry was supported by the mobile field artillery of the Hong Kong Singapore Royal Artillery (HKSRA), who were equipped with 3.7-inch, 4.5-inch and 6-inch howitzers. The 3.7-inch guns were transported by pack mules, and the larger guns were towed by Army trucks. There was some movement of guns, but most stayed in pre-prepared gun positions. The infantry was also supported by 965 Defence Battery which was equipped with six 18-pdr fields guns, and eight 2-pdr anti-tank guns. Their main role was beach defence in support of the pillboxes, manned by the Middlesex Regiment, which ringed the Island shoreline.

In order to alleviate the shortage of officers in the HKSRA, a number of officers from the two coastal defence regiments were assigned to the mobile artillery. Captain Kenneth Allanson (then listed as a Lieutenant) was posted from 8th Coast Regiment, RA to East Group, RA on 15th December 1941. East Group consisted of all the mobile howitzers in the eastern sector of the Island. Their HQ was at Tai Tam Gap alongside East Infantry Brigade HQ.

Captain Allanson was posted to East Group, RA on 15th Dec 1941 (Source: National Archives)
On transfer to East Group, it is not clear, whether Captain Allanson was deployed to East Group HQ at Tai Tam Gap, or immediately deployed to the 3rd Medium Battery, which consisted of two sections of two 6-inch howitzers, located at Sai Wan and Parker. What is clear, is that on the night of 18th December 1941, when the Japanese landed on the north shore of the Island, Captain Allanson was in command of the Sai Wan Howitzer Section.
"The landing was a very close threat to the Sai Wan Section which prepared to defend itself with small arms, and 2/Lt Allanson who joined on the 15th December from 8th Coast Regt, RA was in charge at Sai Wan at this time, and Captain Feilden arrived there at about 2100 hrs with reinforcements from Parker." (Source: War Diary Royal Artillery Island East Group - National Archives)
On Thursday 18th December, the Japanese landed three infantry regiments (228th, 229th and 230th) on the north shore of Hong Kong Island. Each regiment utilised two of their three infantry battalions. Each battalion consisted of one thousand men. Artillery and other support troops followed the infantry. The infantry consisted of 6,000 men, and it is likely that during the night 18th/19th December that 8,000 to 10,000 men were landed on the northeast shore between North Point and Shau Kei Wan. The shore line in this sector was defended by three companies, 'A', 'C' and 'D' Coy, from 5th/7th Rajputs. 'C' Coy Royal Rifles of Canada was the nearest infantry to the Sai Wan Howitzer Section with their Coy HQ located at Lye Mun Gap close to Lye Mun Barracks. At North Point, there was a group of militia, known as the Hughes Group, defending the Hong Kong Electric power station. The British, Canadian and Indian troops defending this section of the north shore totalled around 700 men. They were outnumbered by the Japanese troops involved in the landings by more than ten to one. Lt-Col Cadogan-Rawlinson's Rajput battalion put up a good fight, but were destroyed on the north shore that night.

The 6-inch howitzers of the 3rd Medium Battery were heavy weapons with a basic weight of 4.4 tons.   They required a heavy (8-ton) Scammell Army truck to tow them in and out of their gun positions.

6-inch Howitzer (Source: Royal Artillery Museum)
Scammell truck towing an 8-inch Howitzer (Source: Wikipedia) 
The Parker 6-inch Howitzer Section was located in a cutting beside Island Road. It was protected on two flanks by hillside. The Sai Wan 6-inch Howitzer Section was in a slightly more exposed position, but protected on one side by the slope of Sai Wan Hill. The positioning close to the hillside provided some protection from the heavy aerial and artillery bombardment that occurred during the week prior to the Japanese landings. During the fighting on the Mainland that took place in the first week of the battle, the Sai Wan and Parker Sections were used very effectively to support the Mainland Infantry Brigade. During the siege of the Island, which occurred in the second week of the battle, the two howitzer sections were used for providing counter-battery fire. The howitzer positions were targeted by Japanese counter-battery fire, and incurred several near misses, but no direct hits.

Captain Allanson's howitzer section was located below Sai Wan Hill, and off Island Road in a location that was accessed by a small track known as Cemetery Road. On top of Sai Wan Hill there was an AA section manned by 5th AA Battery, HKVDC. The AA section was equipped with two 3-inch anti-aircraft guns. The AA position was accessed by a road running through Lye Mun Barracks. On the night of the Japanese landings there was a 3.7-inch howitzer positioned midway between the barracks and the AA position. The gun, commanded by Captain Bompas, RA, had been brought up from the Tai Tam Fork 3.7-inch Howitzer Section to fire at Japanese AOPs and mortar positions located across the narrows on Devil's Peak Peninsula.

Sai Wan Howitzer Section (Source: Govt Maps Office - Annotations made by the writer)


One battalion from the 229th Infantry landed at Aldrich Bay, and then moved inland, and up the north facing slopes of Mount Parker. A second battalion from the 229th Regiment landed at two locations near Kung Am. This battalion quickly seized the Pak Sha Wan 6-inch coastal defence battery, and the Sai Wan AA position. Lye Mun barracks were mostly empty, the troops having been deployed to their war stations. The 3.7-inch howitzer located between the barracks and the AA position was overrun and captured. Captain Bombas managed to escape down the hill where he proceeded to the Sai Wan 6-inch Howitzer Section. Captain Goldman, the officer in command of the Sai Wan AA Section, also managed to escape down the hill and reached Captain Allanson's position. The volunteer gunners that were captured at the AA position were rounded up, disarmed, held for a short period, and then put to death by bayonet, one after the other. Two of the gunners, although badly wounded, survived and were able to give evidence at war crimes trials held after the war. This was the first of a number of atrocities that were committed by Japanese troops during the fighting on Hong Kong Island. 

Captain Allanson's howitzer position was compromised by the capture of the AA position. The 6-inch howitzers and their gun crews found themselves unexpectedly on the front line, and the gunners came under increasingly heavy small arms fire from Japanese troops occupying the AA position above them. Efforts were made to re-take Sai Wan Hill by Captain Bompas with the help of Canadian troops from 'C' Coy Royal Rifles of Canada. These efforts were unsuccessful, and in the early hours of Friday 19th December the two howitzers were disabled, and the gunners evacuated to Parker Section further up Island Road. The howitzers could not be withdrawn, because of the lack of towing trucks. Vehicles had been pooled, and as a result there was no dedicated transport available near the gun positions when they were most needed.  

The Japanese attacked Wong Nai Chung Gap (WNC Gap) early in the morning of 19th December.  By noon, the Japanese owned the high ground of Mount Parker, Mount Butler and Jardines Lookout. Brigadier John Lawson, commanding West Infantry Brigade, was killed as were most of the officers and Other Ranks at both West Infantry and West Group HQ. East Infantry Brigade and East Group HQ came under small arms fire from Mount Parker in the late morning. A decision was made by the military commanders that all troops in the eastern sector of the island were to withdraw to Stanley in order to avoid being cut off. The infantry would then launch a counterattack from Stanley.

The coastal defence batteries at Collinson, Chung Hom Kok, D'Aguilar and Bokhara were put out of action and abandoned. The mobile artillery was ordered to withdraw, but without towing trucks for the 4.5 and 6-inch howitzers, and without mules for the 3.7-inch howitzers, the guns were abandoned. East Group lost all their guns except one. On that day of chaos and confusion they lost four 6-inch howitzers, four 4.5-inch howitzers, and three 3.7-inch howitzers. The only gun to be successfully brought back to Stanley was a 3.7-inch howitzer based at Tai Tam Fork Section. West Group lost three 3.7-inch and two 6-inch howitzers, which were located on Stanley Gap Road near WNC Gap. 

Captain Allanson initially withdrew to Parker Section, and later was ordered to withdraw to Stanley Fort. The gunners, without their howitzers, had to fight as infantry. A large group of approximately one hundred gunners was assembled that evening, and ordered to mount an infantry assault on WNC Gap. They first cleared Repulse Bay Road, which was blocked by shot up vehicles. This allowed two armoured cars to get through to WNC Gap, and provide fire support for the attack. They managed to do what no other unit had been able to achieve during a series of counterattacks made by other units during that day (19th December). They were successful in re-capturing the police station and the knoll at the centre of WNC Gap. The police station was held for a period of hours, but the Japanese with four infantry battalions in the area around WNC Gap were able to rush up reinforcements and regain both the police station and the knoll. The gunners fighting in the unfamiliar role of infantry incurred very heavy casualties. Only thirteen gunners made it back to Stanley, the rest were killed or captured. Lt-Col Yale, Major De Vere Hunt and Captain Feilden were all killed at WNC Gap.

The war diary for East Group states that during the same evening, Major Duncan and Captain Allanson were sent to Wan Chai Gap to take over command of West Group HQ which had been destroyed earlier that day at WNC Gap. West Group still retained a number of howitzers in their sector of the Island, but their officers at Counter-Bombardment HQ and West Group HQ had all been killed.
"On the evening of 19th December Major Duncan was ordered to go to Wan Chai Gap and to take over command of West Group RA, and he set off taking with him 2/Lt Allanson." (East Group War Diary)
I am not sure what happened to Captain Allanson after this date, but I assume he remained with West Group HQ, because after 20th December it would have been impossible for him, or Major Duncan, to get from Wan Chai Gap back to East Group at Stanley. There is no further reference to Major Duncan or Captain Allanson in the war diaries. I assume that Major Duncan remained as commander of West Group until 22nd December. On that day, Major Crowe, RA who had been injured on 19th December, was released from hospital and took command of West Group. Although also a Major it is possible that Major Duncan remained with West Group HQ and likewise Captain Allanson. Another possibility is that one or both officers moved to West Group Administrative Pool located at Ho Tung Gardens on the Peak. This was the home of Robert and Clara Ho Tung who referred to it as The Falls. Robert Ho Tung had left Hong Kong before the war started.

On the night of 23rd/24th December, West Group HQ withdrew to Victoria Gap following a withdrawal by the infantry from Wan Chai Gap. The area around Victoria Gap was subject to heavy bombardment. Major John Munro, Brigade Major RA, recalls visiting West Group HQ during a truce in the morning of 25th December.
"After considerable search I found West Group HQ in a culvert under Lugard Road. Crowe had been shelled out of three houses where he had established his HQ." (Diary of Major Monro held at Imperial War Museum)
The Crown Colony capitulated in the early afternoon of 25th December 1941. The surrendered troops were corralled at various locations, but mostly around Victoria Barracks. A few days later they were incarcerated in POW camps at Sham Shui Po, Argyle Street and North Point. Captain Allanson may have initially entered Sham Shui Po Camp, but if so, a few months later, in April 1942, he was transferred to Argyle Street Camp, which became designated as an officer's camp.

The war diaries refer to Captain Allanson as a 2/Lt or Lt, but at some stage he was promoted to the rank of Captain. This could have been on transfer to 3rd Medium Battery, or on transfer to West Group HQ, or during the incarceration, but I suspect it was more likely to have been during the battle. MoD files (Forces-War-Records.co.uk) and Commonwealth War Graves Commission records (cwgc.org) all accord him the rank of Captain.

In September 1942, Captain Allanson was one of some 1,800 POWs who were to be transferred to Japan to work as slave labourers at docks, mines and factories. The POWs were taken on-board a Japanese freighter, the Lisbon Maru, which sailed from Hong Kong on 27th September 1942. 

The freighter Lisbon Maru (Source: Wikipedia)
The vessel was armed fore and aft, and displayed no markings to indicate that POWs were aboard. In addition to the POWs, the Lisbon Maru carried 778 Japanese troops. The POWs were crowded into three holds. Captain Allanson together with 380 men of the Royal Artillery, under the command of Major William Pitt, 8th Coast Regiment, were allocated to No. 3 Hold. This was the stern-most of the three holds allocated to the POWs, and was located aft of the bridge structure. The POWs were mostly sick with many suffering the effects of malnutrition, and others suffering from diphtheria, dysentery and malaria. The holds were overcrowded, filthy, rat infested, and there was no sanitary or washing facilities provided for the POWs below deck.

During the morning of 1st October, whilst some one hundred miles southeast of Shanghai, the ship was torpedoed by an American submarine, the USS Grouper. The submarine commander had no way of knowing that the Japanese freighter was carrying British POWs. The submarine fired six torpedoes, the fourth of which hit the freighter in her stern near the propeller shaft. The ship started taking on water and developed a list to port, but the old freighter took 24 hours to sink. The POWs were battened down in the holds. The air became musty and difficult to breath, and without access to toilets the conditions soon deteriorated. Since the freighter was slowly sinking by the stern, the No. 3 Hold was taking in the most water. A four-man water pump was lowered into the hold, and Captain Allanson helped to operate the pump.

The Japanese escort vessels tried to tow the sinking ship, but to no avail. By the morning of 2nd October it became obvious that the ship was going down, and would sink at any time. The Japanese soldiers had already been taken off, leaving a number of the crew and some armed guards. The Japanese were prepared to let the ship sink with the POWs trapped in the holds. When it became clear that the ship was going down, the men in No. 2 Hold managed to break out and release the covers on the two other holds. Many of the POWs were shot as they came out on deck. Many jumped over the ship's side and started swimming away from the stricken vessel, but a number of these men were shot whilst in the water. It was only after Chinese fishermen, from nearby islands, had started picking up survivors that the Japanese did the same. Some 800 British POWs lost their lives, including Captain Allanson who was subsequently reported as missing, believed drowned. The No. 3 Hold, which had taken in so much water, had the highest number of casualties from drowning.

After the war, one of the survivors of the sinking, who had been in the same hold, visited Kenneth's widowed mother, Dora Maude Allanson, and told her that Kenneth had manned the pumps to the end. In helping to save others, he gave up his life. He was remembered by Battery Quartermaster Sergeant Charles Barman, HKSRA, who kept a diary, and who had been in Argyle Street Camp with   Kenneth Allanson.
"I heard yesterday that Lieut Allanson of the 8th Coast Regiment was one of the unfortunates to go down when the Lisbon Maru was sunk last year, he was an excellent officer." (Resist to the End (2009) Charles Barman).
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KEA visiting his sister in South Africa - September 1940 (Courtesy Christopher Allanson)

In happier times (Courtesy Christopher Allanson)

Acknowledgements:
My special thanks to Christopher Allanson, whose own father, James Allanson, served in the 51st Highland Division in North Africa and Italy. Kenneth was James Allanson's youngest brother. 

Information:
As usual if anybody can add to this story, or provide more information on Captain Kenneth Allanson, please do so by commenting on the post, or by contacting the writer. 

Lisbon Maru:
The full story of the sinking can be read in Tony Banham's book The Sinking of the Lisbon Maru - Britain's Forgotten Wartime Tragedy (2006).

Artillery Glossary:

Troop:   Refers to a unit of 4 guns. A Field Regiment normally had three Batteries and each Battery had two Troops.

Section: Refers to a unit of less than 4 guns (usually 2 and therefore a half Troop). Sections were sometimes designated Left and Right Sections.