"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)|
|Passenger List SS Orbita (Source: Ancestry.com)|
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)|
"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)|
|Rear Bn HQ at Pencil Factory and Bn HQ at Filter Beds. (Govt Maps Office)|
|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)
"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)
"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)
|Route taken by 'A' Coy 2/RS on 19th Dec (Source: National Archives)|
|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)
"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)
|The wedding in March 1946|
(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.