Monday, 22 October 2018

Robert Grindley Southerton - Stanley Internment Camp

Fifty-year-old Robert Grindley Southerton was taking passage back home to Shanghai by way of Hong Kong. He was a teacher (and I think the headmaster) at the Shanghai Municipal Council Polytechnic School. He happened to be in Hong Kong and got stranded when the war began. His twenty-two-year-old daughter Muriel was in Shanghai. His wife Edith Ethel nee Witchell and his fifteeen-year-old son, also called Robert Grindley Southerton, which was something of a family tradition, had been in Australia and were returning separately via Manila. 

SMC Polytechnic Public School
His wife and son were interned at Santo Tomas University. The campus became the largest civilian  Internment Camp in Manila. The internees were mostly American (3,200) but there were a large number (900) of British and Commonwealth (Canadian and Australian) internees including Edith and her son Robert.

Santo Tomas University Internment Camp.
Robert Southerton (Snr.) was initially held at the Kowloon Hotel Temporary Internment Centre. Then in late January, he was moved to Stanley Camp. Those, like Robert,  who lived in Shanghai were later repatriated to Japanese controlled Shanghai. There were two repatriations, one in July and one in  December 1942. Robert returned to Shanghai and was reunited with his daughter Muriel. He then found that his wife and son had been interned in the Philippines. They were also repatriated to Shanghai in 1942. Initially, foreigners in Shanghai were not interned but in 1943 civilians from enemy countries like Britain, America and Holland were interned. These were mostly held in Shanghai and there were several different internment camps in and around the city. The book "Empire of the Sun" by J.G. Ballard, and the subsequent film portray life in a Shanghai internment camp through the eyes of a child. 
   Muriel Southerton was a stenographer working for Confederation Life, the Canadian insurance company. Edith, like her husband, was a school teacher. They had married in November 1917 in Hong Kong. After the family was reunited in Shanghai they were interned together at Yu Yuen Road Camp from February 1943 until April 1945. In April 1945 they were moved to Yangtzepoo Camp until liberation in August/September 1945. Yu Yuen Road Camp held a large number of Shanghai Municiplal Council employees. The family were repatriated after the war but their health never fully recovered. Robert Southerton died in February 1948 aged only fifty-six. Edith died the following year in November 1949 aged only fifty-three. 


Log Book of Internees Stanley Camp (Imperial War Museum)
Frank Fisher's diary (Imperial War Museum)
Captives of Empire by Greg Leck

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Fortress Signal Coy - Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC) in the Battle for Hong Kong

The Fortress Signal Coy, HKVDC was mobilised on Monday, 8 December 1941. The unit consisted of two officers, a CSM and thirteen British Other Ranks (BORs) and approximately 100  Chinese linesmen. They were all staff of Hong Kong Telephone Company (HK Tel Co).

Major John Patrick Sherry (Formerly Manager HK Tel Co.)
Captain Walter Charles Clark (Formerly Assistant Manager HK Tel Co.)

CSM Robert Kirkwood

James McDonald Dalziel
Thomas Davis
Paul John Engelbrecht
Arthur Leslie Fisher
William James Geall
William George Griffin
Charles Hatt
Arthur Charles Jeffreys
Charles Francis Needham
Duncan Tollan
Ben William Simmons
Leslie Douglas Skinner

Robert Emmet Farrell

The European Engineers were all given the rank of sergeant, except Kirkwood who was given the rank of company sergeant major (CSM). The Chinese Inspectors were given the rank of Corporal and the rest of the linesmen were Privates. 
   Major Sherry reported to Lt-Col Eustace Levett, Chief Signals Officer as did Major Arthur Nathaniel Braude who commanded the HKVDC Signals. Lt-Col Levett was based in the Battle Box underneath the HQ Building Victoria Barracks. The Battle Box was completed in 1940. Captain Peter Gracey and Lt Cyril Bucke both Royal Corps of Signals were also based in the Battle Box.  
   Robert Farrell was Chief Engineer of Hong Kong Telephone.  After initial internment, he was able to secure his release on the grounds that he was a national of the  Irish Free State. He was also the Spanish Consul. In November 1942 he left for Macau with his Spanish wife and infant child. He was assisted by the British Consul John Reeves who helped him secure passage by junk to Free China, from where he returned to the UK. He served in the Army and was posted back to Hong Kong as a Major in 1945 to help with the repatriation of POWs.   
     We know quite a lot about Fortress Signal Coy because of the fascinating diary published by Arthur (Les) Fisher entitled I Will Remember (1996). 

Les Fisher recalls being provided with 12 rounds and a .38 revolver. A slightly less chunky handgun than the usual Webley .455. The Coy HQ was in the Exchange Building which had been the Head Office for Hong Kong Tel Co. The Exchange Building in Des Voeux Road was built in 1926 and demolished in 1977. In 1941, it accommodated the Lane Crawford Department Store and the building was also known as Lane Crawford House. In the basement, there was a popular Cafe known as the Cafe Wiseman (it had originally been established as Cafe Weissmann). Fisher was initially posted to the Kowloon Telephone Exchange. He was then moved to Aberdeen where his base was a commandeered cinema. At Aberdeen, the Signals detachment consisted of Sgt Ernest Edward ("Dodger") Green, RCS and three men from Royal Corps of Signals (RCS) and eight Canadian Signalmen under a Corporal and the eight Chinese linesmen under Sgt Fisher.
    The linesmen and engineers were continually trying to fix underground, and overground, telephone lines whilst under fire. Communication was almost exclusively by telephone - and when lines were broken they needed to be repaired urgently. On Sunday, 14 December  Les Fisher and the Aberdeen Detachment were relocated to a house on Bisney Road in Po Fu Lam. The house was on a knoll between Queen Mary Hospital (QMH) and the shoreline of Sandy Bay. Bisney Road ran between Pok Fu Lam Road and Victoria Road. Fisher describes entering the house and finding it fully furnished, with servants and a pet dog, but the owner had vacated. The house was in between the 9.2-inch battery at Fort Davis and the AA Battery near Waterfall Bay which were both firing, and being fired at. The next location was even more heavily shelled. They were sent to Quarry Bay on the North East Shore on the day the Japanese landed. Their job was to repair the main telephone cable running along the shoreline and fix the branch lines to the various pillboxes and alternative positions along the shore from Causeway Bay to Shau Kei Wan. After the Japanese landed Fisher was able to make his way across the divide and down to Repulse Bay Hotel. They were at the hotel when the Japanese arrived on 20 December and the siege of the hotel commenced. Fisher participated in the military evacuation of the hotel on the night of 22/23 December. He made it through to Stanley Prison where he remained until the surrender of the colony on 25 December 1941.
    Les Fisher was incarcerated in North Point Camp and later at Sham Shui Po Camp. After liberation, he continued to work for Hong Kong Telephone despite his weakened state. He was repatriated in mid-November 1945. Whereas most left by ship, and many on RN vessels, Fisher left by air. He was flown on a Dakota to Kunming. After spending a few days in Kunming they were flown to Calcutta.  From Calcutta, they flew on a BOAC Sunderland flying boat to Karachi. They then flew by Dakota to Baghdad, Cairo, Malta, Marseilles, and finally landing at Poole. Then by rail to Sheffield,  where he was reunited with his wife and daughter who he had not seen for five years since they were evacuated in July 1940. He returned to Hong Kong in 1946 and worked with HKT until retirement in 1954.


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.


Main Sources:

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

A blog entitled All things Georgian

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).