Wednesday 21 February 2018

Xmas at the Penn's - December 1938

It is Christmas Day 1938, and Arthur Harry Aeroux Penn, known as Harry, and his wife Irene, known as Rene, were hosting a Christmas party at their home, 195 The Peak. The property is shown on the 1938 road map of the Peak District as Kenlis, but to the Penn family, it was simply known as 195, The Peak. It was situated on Mount Kellett Road, close to both the Matilda Hospital and the War Memorial Hospital. Harry Penn was Managing Director of The Bank Line (China) Ltd with responsibility for the operations of the shipping company in Hong Kong and China. The house, a two-storey house, with high ceilings and fine views belonged to The Bank Line and was used to accommodate the family of the incumbent Managing Director in Hong Kong. The house had a flat roof, the original peaked roof having been demolished, following typhoon damage during the previous year (1937).  

1938 Xmas Party (courtesy of Strellett family)
The photograph below shows a view of Mount Kellett in the 1930s. The track leading uphill is the driveway to Eredine. Like the house, Mount Kellet once had a peaked top, as shown in the photograph. The crest was removed some years after the war to accommodate the construction of a covered reservoir. The site of the Penn's old home was until recently occupied by two townhouses which still carried the old name The Kenlis. The two townhouses have recently been demolished and the site cleared for construction. On the upper right you can make out the old War Memorial Hospital which was demolished long ago, and on the upper left the Matilda Hospital, which still remains. 

Mount Kellett in 1930s (Flicker)
The map extract shown below is from a road map of the Peak District dated 1938 and shows 195 (just above the wording for Kellett in the centre of the map). It also shows the old name of Kenlis.

Road map of the Peak District (Govt Maps Office)
The photograph below shows Mount Kellett, taken from the same angle as the 1930s photograph, but as it is today, in February 2018. The construction site, on what was once the plot occupied by 195, The Peak can be seen in the photograph.

Mount Kellett as at 15th February 2018 (PGC)
Let us return to the original photograph. It is a moment time, it is 3pm on Christmas Day, in pre-war Hong Kong. It was nine months before the war began in Europe and three years before the Battle for Hong Kong erupted in December 1941. Who are the people in the photograph I wondered, and what happened to them during the war and afterwards? One of them died in battle, several of them fought in the battle for Hong Kong, some of the wives and children were evacuated, several of those pictured were incarcerated in brutal Japanese internment camps. This is an attempt to briefly tell their story.

Numbered Photograph with identification key (Strellett family)
1. John Collis. 2. Marian Gordon. 3. Allister Sommerfelt. 4. Gladys Collis. 5. Aki Bowker. 6. William Simmons. 7. Keith Valentine. 8. Rene Penn. 9. Harry Penn. 10. Ralph (?) 11. Edith Sommerfelt. 12. Vyner Gordon. 13. Patricia Penn. 14. John Penn. 15. Bruce Valentine. 16. David Sommerfelt. 17. Judith Ann Collis.  Photographer: David Strellett.

Dramatis Personae

John Richard Collis
He was a born in West Ealing, in the county of Middlesex on 10th October 1898. In 1917, during WW1, he served as a Pte in the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC). I am not sure when he came to Hong Kong, but he appears on a Jurors List for 1924, and at that time was an Assistant Manager for The Bank Line (China) Ltd. In 1924, Harry Penn, his host at the Xmas party fourteen years later in 1938, was Sub-Manager, and they both gave an address of the Peak Hotel. John Collis married Gladys Emma Isaac in 1932. They had a daughter Judith Ann Collis who was born in 1933. Gladys and Judith can be seen in the 1938 photograph. At the time of the photograph in 1938, and when war began in 1941, John Collis was Company Secretary of the Hong Kong subsidiary of The Bank Line. He joined the HKVDC, and may have served with Harry Penn, his boss at The Bank Line, who was a Captain and commanding officer of No. 1 Coy, HKVDC. Gladys and Judith were evacuated in 1940 to the Philippines, and from there returned to the UK. The family returned to Hong Kong after the war. In 1953, John Collis served as Chairman of the Hong Kong Club. He retired to the UK in 1956, and passed away after a long retirement in 1989, at the age of 90. Judith married Derek Pearce, a banker with HSBC, in 1954. She predeceased her husband and passed away in 2014. 

Allister Sommerfelt
Allister Sommerfelt was born 23rd July 1899 in Birkenhead. His father was a Norwegian national. They were formally naturalized as British citizens in 1900. In WW1 Allister served as a 2nd Lt in the Royal Flying Corps, before the RFC and the Royal Naval Air Service were amalgamated to form the Royal Air Force. He was an observer and rear gunner in a RE-8-biplane when his aircraft was shot down over France in 1918.

RE-8 Pilot and Observer/Gunner (IWM)
RE-8 briefing (IWM)
He was captured on or close to his 19th birthday and became a prisoner of war. The Germans apparently presented him with a bottle of champagne following his capture to celebrate his birthday on 23rd  July 1918. He was repatriated in December 1918.

After completing his military service, he at some stage trained as a Chartered Accountant. We know that at the age of 25 he took passage to Hong Kong where he worked initially for the Union Insurance Society of Canton Ltd. Bill Anderson, who served as a Dispatch Rider in the HKVDC during the war, wrote to me after reading this article, to say that he recalled that Allister Sommerfelt worked for the firm of Linstead & Davis, Chartered Accountants. Allister worked under Henry Russell ("Rusty") Forsyth, a partner in the firm, and the commanding officer of No 2 Coy HKVDC. It was when Allister was called up in 1939 for service in the HKRNVR  that Bill Anderson was invited to join the firm of Linstead & Davis. The firm were auditors to Hongkong Shanghai Banking Corporation before the war.

In October 1926  Allister married Edith Dorothy Lillian Birchall at St John's Cathedral, Hong Kong. The wedding is reported in the Hong Kong Telegraph for 6th October 1926. They took their honeymoon at Fan Ling. Their son David, who is shown in the photograph was born in 1931. Allister Sommerfelt joined the Hong Kong branch of the RNVR (HKRNVR) and was mobilised in 1939. He served as a Paymaster Lt-Commander, which must have been a natural fit given his profession as a Chartered Accountant. When war broke out in Europe in 1939, Allister sent Edith Dorothy (known as "Dolly") and David back to the UK. Allister never saw Edith again because she contracted pneumonia and passed away in Lyme Regis in March 1945, whist David was only thirteen, and whilst Allister was still incarcerated in POW camp. After release from a brutal internment in 1945 and repatriation to the UK, Allister married forty-five-year-old Edith Louisa Grave, known as "Judy", in Chelsea in 1946. She had previously worked as a Nursing Sister at the War Memorial Hospital and was in Hong Kong during the battle and subsequent Japanese occupation. She had been interned at Stanley Camp where she was billeted in the European Married Quarters block and shared a room with four others, three of whom were nurses at the War Memorial Hospital. 

Allister Sommerfelt served on the HKRNVR base ship HMS Cornflower which was moored alongside the north wall of the RN Basin. After war started with Japan on 8th December 1941, Cornflower and the auxiliary patrol vessels (APVs), manned by HKRNVR crews, were moved first to Aberdeen Harbour and then to the naval anchorage at Deep Water Bay. The HKRNVR moved to a shore base in a house overlooking Middle Island. The Japanese landed on the north shore of Hong Kong Island during the night of 18th/19th December. In the early hours of Friday 19th, Major Marsh, 1/Mx, at Shouson Hill, asked Commander Vernall, commanding officer of HKRNVR, to send an armed naval patrol to a house called Postbridge to investigate a report of possible Fifth Columnist signalling coming from the house. Allister joined the party with a dozen other HKRNVR officers and one or two senior ratings. Allister drove the truck carrying the naval patrol, there had been no shortage of volunteers, all were anxious to play a part in the battle. Postbridge was the home of George Tinson, a solicitor and partner with the law firm Johnson Stokes & Master. His home had been occupied by the Hong Kong Singapore Royal Artillery who were using it as an Administration HQ. In the early hours of that same morning, the Japanese seized the nearby police station at Wong Nai Chung (WNC) Gap, the nearby Advanced Dressing Station (ADS), the AA battery at Stanley Gap, and West Brigade HQ was already surrounded.

The naval party, on finding the house was occupied by the Army, decided to check another house, called Holmesdale, which was situated across the road. The house still remains today, now known as No. 4 Repulse Bay Road. As they left the house they came under machine-gun fire and grenades were thrown at them. They returned to the house which was put into a state of defence. The house found itself on the frontline and heavily attacked throughout the day. The garrison at the house consisting of the HKRNVR party, and the Royal Artillery group, were joined by some of the RN contingent from Aberdeen who had been ambushed whilst driving up to WNC Gap to reinforce West Brigade HQ. George Tinson, the homeowner, was shot and died in his home from his wounds. A number of the garrison, both Army and Navy were killed in action whilst defending the house. The house was destroyed by explosives, and the surviving members of the garrison escaped down a steep slope at the back of the house.  After escaping from the besieged villa, Allister Sommerfelt and other members of HKRNVR were deployed to fight as infantry in the hills behind Aberdeen and in the Shouson Hill area. Allister passed away in 1989 in Yeovil, Somerset aged 90. Edith Louisa (Judy) passed away in 1994. Allister's son David passed away in November 2012.

Arthur Cecil Irvine ("Aki") Bowker
He was known as Aki because of his initials ACI. He was a 2/Lt serving with the 5th AA Battery, HKVDC, and was the second-in-command of the battery. The battery was commanded by Captain Lawrence ("Lolly") Goldman. The battery-operated two 3-inch AA guns on Sai Wan Hill. Aki Bowker died at Bowen Road Military Hospital, whilst a prisoner of war in October 1942, as a result of intestinal complications. Fellow history enthusiast, Mike Hennessy, found from a  review of Jurors Lists that he joined Dodwells in 1924 and remained with them until 1940 with an absence, possibly a transfer, between 1926 and 1929. His address was given as 167, The Peak from 1931 to 1937 and afterwards as "on-premises." The China Mail for 19th May 1925, refers to his cricketing prowess in a match between the Hong Kong Cricket Club and the Shanghai Cricket Club. Throughout the 1930s there are regular newspaper reports referring to Aki in the context of cricket. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records, he was married to a Mrs E. Bowker from Camel, Somerset, who is listed as next of kin. However, so far I have not been able to find out her first name or any other detail about her. They had no children and she does not appear to have lived in Hong Kong or travelled to Hong Kong. Perhaps a reader can help shed more information. 

William Simmons 
William Frederick Simmons, known as Simmie, was Company Secretary of Hong Kong Tramways. He was born in 1900. There is a record of him departing the UK in July 1923, aged 23, to take up a job with Hong Kong Tramways. In the 1924 Jurors List his address is given as the Peak Hotel and he is listed as being an Assistant Manager at Tramways. He later became Company Secretary. After the war, he succeeded Leonard Bellamy as General Manager of the company. During the war he was interned at Stanley Camp. He was billeted in the Indian Quarters. One report indicated he was kept out of Stanley Camp initially, as was the case with the bankers and some other technicians, in his case to assist with the continued operation of the trams. These reports suggest he came into camp in November 1942. He returned to UK several months after liberation in 1946. He never fully recovered from the privations of internment camp and died in January 1950 at the early age of 49. He was survived by his wife, Winifred, and his daughter, Audrey. 

Robert Keith Valentine (known as Keith)
He served as a Captain in the HKVDC and was the commanding officer of No. 4 Rifle Coy (Chinese). No. 4 Coy consisted of 4 officers and 74 men and were deployed at Victoria Peak and Mount Kellett. In civilian life, he had worked for Dodwell & Co. Keith had a brother, Douglas who was a medical doctor in Hong Kong. Dr Douglas Valentine was married to Nina, and they were both incarcerated in Stanley Internment Camp. Keith was incarcerated in Sham Shui Po Camp. He was born in Shanghai in 1897. He was known by his middle name of Keith. He married Aimee Talbot Haslett at St John's Cathedral, in Hong Kong, on 22nd October 1927. They had two children, Malcolm Keith Talbot Valentine (1929) and Geoffrey Bruce Valentine (1933), known as Bruce. Bruce is shown in the photo.  Aimee and their eldest son Malcolm were not in the photograph, but I discovered from passenger manifests that they were in England,  having arrived there on 14th December 1938.  Keith Valentine passed away in 1984 and Aimee in 1985. Bruce Valentine followed his father into Dodwell and worked for the company in Hong Kong and Japan. At a later stage in his career, he joined the Wharf Group. After retiring he lived between Australia and Hong Kong. He passed away in Brisbane, Australia in 2017. His ashes were scattered at Big Wave Bay in Hong Kong, and a group of friends gathered at the Hong Kong Club to remember him. His elder brother, Malcolm became a medical doctor and settled in the United States.

Vyner Reginald Gordon
Vyner served in No 2 Coy (Scottish), HKVDC. He was given an emergency commission on 17th December and thereafter served as a 2/Lt in the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots. He was wounded in the counterattack on WNC Gap Police Station on 19th December and subsequently died of wounds at Queen Mary Hospital on 6th January 1942. He left a wife Marion Fleming Gairdner, shown in the photograph. She had been evacuated to Australia in 1940 with her two sons Gavin Macnair Gordon (October 1936) and Collin Vyner Gordon (February 1940). After their evacuation in August 1940, Vyner visited Marion and their two sons in 1941 during a medical leave granted to him following a bout of appendicitis. Sadly when he returned to Hong Kong they were not to see each other again.

Vyner was born in Scotland in 1904. On passenger lists for 1938, he gives his occupation as company secretary. In the 1941 Jurors List he is listed as employed by the Secretary's Office of Hong Kong Tramways where he was Assistant Company Secretary. He was, therefore at the Penn's party with his boss William Simmons who was Company Secretary. Marion had originally worked as a nurse at King's College Hospital in London. She came out to Hong Kong following the opening of the War Memorial Hospital in 1931. There is a record of her travelling on the SS Lancaster from Southampton to Hong Kong in February 1931. She was born in Ayrshire in Scotland. She and Vyner married in 1935 and Patricia Penn, (aged six), was a bridesmaid at their wedding. Marion passed away in 1993, leaving two sons, one living in the UK, and one in Canada.

No. 10 in the photograph is a mystery. David Strellett, who took the 1938 photograph, has written Ralph, which is likely to be the first name but could also be a surname. There is an annotated note that he worked for the Education Department, possibly a school teacher. A search of the government yearbooks provided no elucidation. Perhaps a reader might recognise him from the photograph and solve the mystery, of who he is and what became of him.

David Louis Strellett
David Strellett (DLS), not actually in the photograph, but the man behind the camera, was born 25th December 1891 in London. In 1915 he joined the Army serving initially in the Army Service Corps (Motor Transport). After serving on the  Western Front, he was transferred to the 1st Battalion Connaught Rangers who at the time were based in Bangalore, India. He was selected for officer training and commissioned into the British Indian Army serving with 21st Punjab Regiment.

As an officer in the Great War (Strellett Family)
He served on the North-West Frontier and also in Mesopotamia. He was wounded and evacuated back to India. After the war, he continued with his career as a solicitor. He moved to Hong Kong where he worked for Brutton & Co. He married Evelyn (Eve) Rosa Cammell Jacobs in September 1925 at the Holy Trinity Church in Brompton. They spent their honeymoon staying at the Rembrandt Hotel in Knightsbridge. They returned to Hong Kong, living at Peak Mansions. Their two daughters were born in Hong Kong, Jane Eva Mary Cammell Strellett was born in 1926 and Diana Susan Strellett (known as Susan) was born in 1933. DLS sent his family to the UK before the outbreak of war. Once the war started in Europe the family moved to Canada. They went to Victoria, British Columbia to be as close as possible to Hong Kong. They remained in Canada until the war ended when they were reunited with DLS, emaciated and recently liberated from the internment camp.

DLS as an ex-Army officer was quick to join the HKVDC, and he became a Captain with the Army Service Corp (ASC) Company. The photograph below shows DLS, standing at left, with the Acting Governor Lt-General Felix Norton and other senior Army officers, mostly from HKVDC.

Captain Strellett standing at left (Courtesy Strellett family)
The photograph was taken during a visit by the Acting Governor to an HKVDC training camp probably around 1940.

Rear Row (left to right): Capt. David Strellett, (ASC Coy), Capt. Cedric Blaker, (ASC Coy), Lt Cyril Jones (2/RS) and Capt. Fred Flippance (ASC Coy)

Front Row: (left to right): Capt. Sydney Batty-Smith, (ADC to Governor), Lt-Col Black, (Field Ambulance), Lt-Col Felix Norton (Acting Governor), Lt-Col Mitchell, (Second-in-Command HKVDC), Capt. Eric Thursby, (Adjutant, HKVDC), Lt Thomas Parkinson, (Quartermaster, HKVDC)

DLS was awarded the MBE (Military) for his services and conduct during hostilities. The citation refers to his organising the movement of RASC stores and equipment from the heavily bombarded North Face of the Island to the RASC depots at Deep Water Bay (DWB) Golf Course and Shouson Hill. The RASC depot, under the command of Lt-Col Frederick, was ordered to evacuate the golf course and the workshops at Shouson Hill on Friday 19th December. They were ordered to proceed to the Dairy Farm in Pok Fu Lam and await further orders. They were to be used as a mobile reserve, and to fight as infantry. During the night of 18th/19th December, the Japanese had landed thousands of troops on the north shore of the Island between North Point and Shau Kei Wan. The Japanese moved quickly inland seizing the high ground of Mt Parker, Mt Butler and Jardine's Lookout. During the early morning on 19th December, the Japanese captured the police station at WNC Gap. Throughout the day a series of counterattacks were made to try and dislodge the Japanese from this critical position in the centre of the Island. However, the Japanese were there in overwhelming strength, and the counterattacks although gallantly prosecuted, proved unsuccessful in dislodging the Japanese.

Lt-Col Frederick was ordered to proceed to the Aberdeen naval base, which had been established at the Aberdeen Industrial School, and augment the RASC contingent with any available troops from the naval base. He formed a composite company, consisting of some two hundred RASC, RN, RAF and other unattached troops. They were deployed to defend both Bennet's Hill, directly behind Aberdeen, and the water catchment running from Bennet's Hill to Deep Water Bay Road. The catchment emerged on Deep Water Bay Road about a kilometre from Wong Nai Chung (WNC) Gap. During the evening they were ordered to attack WNC Gap. They proceeded in trucks up Repulse Bay Road stopping at the Ridge,  a cluster of five houses on a spur facing WNC Gap and about 1 km south of the gap. The five houses had been commandeered by the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) who were using the Ridge as a depot. Having arrived at the Ridge they were ordered to counterattack WNC Gap at dawn the next day (20th December). These orders were then countermanded and they were ordered by Lt-Col Andrews-Levinge, the Commander RASC, to reoccupy the RASC workshops at Shouson Hill.

At dawn on the 20th December, the RASC contingent left the Ridge in trucks and some in marching column. DLS and Captain Fred Focken were with the marching ranks. However, earlier that morning, the Japanese had seized the road junction (Repulse Bay Road/Island Road) near to a house called Overbays. The RASC was ambushed at the junction and forced to withdraw back to the Ridge.  DLS and Capt. Focken came under fire around the entrance drive to Overbays.  During the next two days, the Ridge came under heavy fire from mortars and machine guns. The Japanese were able to fire from a water catchment running above the Ridge on the slopes of Violet Hill. On the 21st a Canadian rifle company under the overall command of Major Templer, Royal Artillery, attempted an attack on WNC Gap.  This was unsuccessful and the Canadian troops joined those at the Ridge and at an adjacent house called Altamira, close to the Ridge on Repulse Bay Road. All this time the Ridge was heavily besieged. On the night of 22nd/23rd December, an effort was made by troops at the Ridge to attack and seize both the road junction and the water catchment that the Japanese were using as the main supply route. Troops at the Ridge were divided into three companies. One remained at the Ridge, which included DLS, these troops were commanded by Lt-Col Macpherson, RAOC, and the other two companies were designated to attack the road junction and the catchment.

The attack failed, and many of the troops took refuge at Overbays which was soon surrounded.  That evening Major Templer gave orders for the troops at the Ridge and at Overbays to try and reach Repulse Bay Hotel before midnight. The military garrison at the hotel was planning to evacuate the hotel that night and make their way to Stanley. DLS left the Ridge with a party that included Major Flippance and Cpl Charles Colebrook. Their group went down a nullah at the back of the Ridge which led down to Repulse Bay Road. They spent the night avoiding Japanese patrols but were unable to get through to Repulse Bay Hotel. As dawn broke on 23rd December, they saw a Japanese flag flying from the hotel. The garrison had left during the night allowing the civilians to surrender the hotel that morning. DLS, and the group he was with made their way to a villa called Twinbrook which had been used as a Naafi Store and was full of supplies including chocolates and cigarettes. Colebrook recalls that the first thing DLS did was to get a razor and have a shave. The next morning, 24th December, they found the house was surrounded, the Japanese shouted out to them to surrender, they had no choice other than to comply. They were lucky because other troops captured in that area were killed either where found, or at Eucliffe, a house built like a castle at Repulse Bay, where many were held before being executed by firing squad or bayonets.

During the day on 22nd, Lt Col Macpherson decided to surrender the position at the Ridge which was now completely surrounded. The officers and senior NCOs were less willing to surrender and unhappy about the commanding officer's decision. House No. 5 occupied primarily by Canadian troops had been heavily mortared and the Canadian troops had gone outside to fight it out.  Colonel Macpherson ordered a ceasefire and went out with a white flag, but was fired on. DLS hoisted the flag on a pole out of a window, but it was shot at. DLS left it dangling from the window. Macpherson ordered the front door to be opened at House No 1, as a further sign of their intent to surrender. During a lull in the firing Macpherson went out with the intention of hailing the Japanese. He was shot at and badly wounded in the leg. The Japanese were simply not willing to accept a surrender. When the Ridge was evacuated that evening, 22nd/23rd, the wounded including Macpherson remained behind and when the position was overrun by the Japanese the next morning (23rd December), the wounded were all put to death by bayonets and rifle butts.

In POW Camp DLS, a self-taught pianist was able to entertain his fellow prisoners and bring some light relief to what was a very brutal incarceration. There was a shortage of food and medicine. Prisoners of war suffered from malnutrition and from infectious diseases from which so many died.   DLS remained in Sham Shui Po Camp until liberation in August 1945. He was repatriated to Canada where he was reunited with his wife Eve and his two daughters Jane and Susan, from whom he had been separated for so long. He returned to Hong Kong in May 1946, aged 54, and resumed his work as a solicitor and as the Senior Partner in Brutton & Co in Hong Kong. The family lived at Hillcrest on the Peak. His personal interests included philately and photography and he was very involved in charitable work. He was one time President of the Rotary Club, a Director of the Anti-Tuberculosis Association, Chairman of the Building Committee for the Grantham Hospital in Aberdeen, Chairman of the Street Sleepers' Shelter Society, and a member or advisor on several other such committees. In 1953 he was appointed Chevalier in the Order of Orange-Nassau for his services to the Dutch community in Hong Kong. He was legal adviser to the Dutch Consulate. DLS could trace his family origins to Poland and later to Holland before they migrated to England in the late 19th century.  The SCMP photograph showing DLS wearing the insignia of the Order of Orange-Nassau captures  Harry Penn in the background.

DLS  to mark his investiture in the order of Orange-Nassau 
After retiring, DLS stayed in Hong Kong for a few years before returning to the UK. He left Hong Kong in December 1962 and settled in Pevensey, Sussex, spending the winters in the warmer climes of Gibraltar. DLS passed away at the age of 83 in November 1974 and Eve passed away in July 1988.

Arthur Harry Aeroux Penn
AHA Penn (AHP) was born 10th June 1898 in Surrey. He was always known by his second name of Harry. He joined the shipping company, founded by Andrew Weir (later Lord Inverforth), known as The Bank Line, and worked in the London office until joining the Army in June 1916 following the outbreak of WW1. He initially joined the East Surrey Regiment as a Private. He was later selected for officer training and subsequently commissioned as a 2nd Lt in the Royal Berkshire Regiment. He fought on the Western Front with the 5th Battalion and was wounded in action on the Fleurbaix sector.
Harry Penn as an Infantry Officer in WW1
He was demobbed in 1920 and resumed his career with The Bank Line. In 1922 he was offered the opportunity to work for the company in Hong Kong. He appears on the Jurors List for 1922 as Sub-Manager of The Bank Line (China) Ltd, and his address is given as the Peak Hotel. He went back to London on long leave in 1926. It was then that he met Irene (Rene), MacPherson Fisher. She was private secretary to Andrew Weir. They married at St George's Church, Georgetown, Penang in 1928. They had two children Patricia (1929) and John (1935).

Fast forward ten years to the Xmas party in 1938. At that time Harry Penn was Managing Director of The Bank Line (China) Ltd, and a Captain in the HKVDC. He was the commanding officer of No. 1 Coy. The following year the Penn family went on long leave, arriving in the UK on SS Chitral in May 1939. Whilst they were in the UK the war in Europe started in September 1939. AHP hurriedly tried to arrange a  passage back to Hong Kong whilst the Suez Canal still remained open. This he was unable to do and instead took passage to Canada on the SS Duchess of Richmond. In Canada, he was able to get passage across the Pacific to Hong Kong. He was anxious to get back to look after the interests of the Bank Line in Asia and because of his responsibilities as commanding officer of No. 1 Coy.

The following year, on 24th June 1940, Rene, John and Patricia left UK to join Harry in Hong Kong, by this time the Suez Canal was closed, so they sailed across the Atlantic to Montreal on the SS Duchess of Bedford. They then went by rail to Vancouver with the intention of taking passage across the Pacific to Hong Kong. However, by the time they reached the west coast, the Compulsory Evacuation Ordinance had been issued. This required women and minor children, other than women employed in essential services, to evacuate Hong Kong. Those that were evacuated were sent first to Manila and then to Australia. As a result of the ordinance, they would not have been able to land in Hong Kong. The family, therefore remained in British Columbia still hoping to be able to return to Hong Kong at some later stage. Once the war started in the Pacific in December 1941, this became impossible, and the family moved to Toronto on the east coast, in the summer of 1942, hoping to find a passage back to the UK.

Rene, John and Patricia Penn in Canada
They remained in Toronto until December 1943 when they secured a passage to Liverpool arriving in early 1944. John was sent to boarding school in Eastbourne, and Patricia was sent to school in Hastings. The family remained in the UK until Harry returned from Hong Kong in December 1945. It was the first time Harry had seen Rene and the children since September 1939, a period of just over six years. John recalled that first meeting with his father who he had not seen for so long.
"Eastbourne broke up on 19th and my mother collected me. We eventually arrived back at Belmont Station late that evening, and were approached on a very dark platform by a man who said 'may I carry your bags madame' - AHP ! A complete stranger to me!"
AHP's infantry company was in the thick of the action in the Battle for Hong Kong. Initially, his two infantry platoons and the Bren gun carrier platoon were deployed around Kai Tai airfield. The Bren gun carriers and Medium Machine Gun (MMG) sections were ordered to facilitate the withdrawal of the Royal Scots on the left flank of the Gin Drinkers Line following the decision to effect the military evacuation of the Mainland. After the withdrawal from the Mainland, AHP had one platoon deployed at Repulse Bay View and one platoon deployed to defend Sanatorium Gap. The carrier platoon was based at Windy Gap on the Shek-O Road. AHP established his Coy HQ at the Tai Tam Bungalow located on a knoll at Gauge Basin. On the night of the Japanese landings, AHP went up to Sanatorium Gap to join his No. 1 Platoon. The platoon had a section of men defending pillbox (PB) No.  45 on the north-facing slope of Mt Butler. The rest were located at the gap, forming a line running east to west. The platoon defending PB 45 and Sanatorium Gap ended up being in the path of two Japanese battalions. They were involved in a fierce firefight before being pushed back to Gauge Basin. The Japanese troops having overrun the defences continued straight up the path to the crest of Mount Parker. What was left off No. 1 Platoon formed a defensive line around the howitzer battery at Gauge Basin. In mid-morning on 19th December all troops in the eastern sector of the Island were ordered to withdraw to the Stanley Perimeter.

AHP's company was involved in the battle around Notting Hill, Red Hill and the Tai Tam X-Roads on 20th and 21st December. During a brigade counter-attack on the Tai Tam X-Roads on 21st December AHP was shot in the face whilst engaging enemy troops on Red Hill. He was taken to St Stephen's College Hospital at Stanley, but he discharged himself and re-joined No. 1 Coy. He discharged himself just before the massacre of patients and medical staff by Japanese soldiers which occurred on 25th December at St Stephen's College Hospital. He survived the period of brutal incarceration and stayed on in Hong Kong after liberation to get the Bank Line's Hong Kong office up and running. AHP was repatriated by air to UK  flying in an RAF Dakota.

Following repatriation leave, demobilisation, and having spent some time at The Bank Line's Head Office in London, AHP and Rene returned to Hong Kong in 1946.  In 1948 AHP became Chairman of the Hong Kong Club and Steward of the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club, a position he retained until he left Hong Kong in 1963. He enjoyed golf and captained the Royal Hong Kong Golf Club for two periods. He retired from The Bank Line in 1957, but stayed on in Hong Kong for a few more years, finally leaving for the UK in 1963. They settled at Effingham in the picturesque Surrey Hills. Harry passed away in 1972 and Rene in 1982. John Penn followed in his father's footsteps into the shipping business, and like Harry worked in Hong Kong for many years. John and Patricia currently live in Australia.



Tony Banham
Mike Hennessy
Ann Hutson
Susan Lange
John Penn
Tom Sommerfelt


  1. Fantastic research Philip and really enjoyed reading that. Thank you.

  2. Whew... so interesting Philip. I do hope some readers can solve your mysteries! Let us know. /las

  3. Wonderful stuff Philip. Thank you so much for all this detail!

  4. Thanks Philip Cracknell- My grandfather 'Simmie' Simmons in the middle of photo, looking to get a 'good angle'. I remember my grandmother Winnie, talking about several of the people in the photo. Unfortunately, I have no helpful knowledge to add. I would be grateful for any information about my relatives and their friends.