Wednesday 23 October 2019

Captain S. H. Batty-Smith

Captain Batty-Smith was aide-de-camp (ADC) to both Sir Geoffrey Northcote (1937-1941) and to Northcote's successor, Sir Mark Young,  as Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Hong Kong. Sir Mark was Governor from September 1941 until his imprisonment by the Japanese on 25 December 1941. He resumed the role of Governor from 1946 to 1947. Captain Batty-Smith, moustachioed, booted and spurred, looks back at us from a dozen photographs where he is seen accompanying the Governor to formal events. 

HKVDC officers (Courtesy Susan Lange) 

In the photograph above, we can see Batty-Smith, in darker uniform with a riding crop in hand, seated on the left-hand side of the front row. Seated next to him is Lt-Col Black, he was the commanding officer at St Stephen's College Relief Hospital when the Japanese broke in and bayoneted patients in their beds, killing patients, medical orderlies, doctors and nurses. George Black, a long term resident of Hong Kong and in peacetime a well-known doctor in private practice, was one of the first to be cruelly put to death. One's eye is drawn to the officer ramrod-straight, wearing battledress, standing in the centre of the back row. This was Captain Cyril ('Potato') Jones, 2/RS a flamboyant officer who commanded 'A' Coy Royal Scots and who was blamed for the loss of the Shing Mun Redoubt. In front of Potato Jones, seated in the centre, is Lt-General Edward Felix Norton. At the time he was Acting Governor of Hong Kong in the absence of Sir Geoffrey Northcote who was on medical leave. Batty-Smith was accompanying Lt-General Norton. Norton was an accomplished mountaineer who had participated in the British Everest expeditions in 1922 and 1924.

1/Mx Guard of Honour (Source IWM)

In the photograph above, we see Batty-Smith looking towards the camera during the inspection of the guard of honour drawn from the Middlesex Regiment on the occasion of the departure of Sir Geoffrey in September 1941. 
Sir Mark Young with Brigadier Lawson (Source IWM)

In this photograph (above), we see Sir Mark Young talking with Brigadier Lawson and Captain Battty-Smith in the background. This photo was taken in November 1941, only a few weeks before the outbreak of war.  Captain Batty-Smith, born in October 1890, was fifty-one-years-old at the time. In 1909 he was an undergraduate at  Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University. 
   Army records show him serving as a 2/Lt in the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment (The Loyals) in 1912. In 1913 he attended the Vickers Flying School and obtained an Aviator's Certificate. 

Photograph attached to Aviator Certificate (Courtesy Nigel Batty-Smith)

He fought on the Western Front in 1914. He was reported as missing in December 1914. In fact, he was wounded, captured, and became a Prisoner of War. He seems to have left the Army around 1922 and become a teacher. In 1937, he was reinstated in the rank of Captain from the Reserve of Officers and acted as ADC to Northcote. After the Christmas Day surrender and following a short period spent with other government officials in Prince's Building, Batty-Smith was interned at Stanley Civilian Internment Camp. 
   There is no record of Batty-Smith having ever married. There are some records of his having travelled with his mother, Lilian Emily Batty-Smith. In Stanley Camp, he shared a room in Block 2  (the former European Married Quarters) with Mrs Simon White, the wife of Lt Col Simon White, the commanding officer of the 2nd  Bn Royal Scots. Also in that room were three members of the Colonial Government, Henry Butters, Financial Secretary, John Deakin, the Custodian for Government House, and Ronald North, Secretary for Chinese Affairs.  
   John Stericker, writing in an unpublished manuscript entitled Captive Colony, held at the Special Collections Library HKU, describes Batty-Smith's POW experience in the last war.
As a prisoner of war in the First World War, his name will be found amongst those who took part in various exciting attempts to escape from certain prison camps in Germany about which several books have been written. (John Stericker)
Barbara Redwood wrote in her diary for 4 January 1945:
Captain Batty-Smith lectured in our room most interestingly on experiences in POW camp in Germany for almost four years in WW1 (Barbara Redwood)
One month later, on 12 February, Batty-Smith died aged only fifty-four. He died as a result of a cerebral haemorrhage. Chaloner Grenville Chaloner, the Attorney General, wrote in his diary that Batty-Smith collapsed suddenly, at around 4 p.m., while washing clothes in the bathroom during an air raid. Franklin Gimson and John Deakin (the Government House Custodian) picked him up and put him on his bed . Doctor Valentine and Dr Smalley were summoned. After the air raid he was admitted to Tweed Bay Hospital. He died at 11 p.m. that day. 

The grave in Stanley Military Cemetery

His simple grave can still be seen in Stanley Military Cemetery. The inscription includes a line taken from Rupert Brooke's famous poem - The Soldier.

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be

In that rich earth, a richer dust concealed..... (Rupert Brooke)



The photograph below was taken from Diana Fortescue's The Survivors (2015), a family history centred on her parents, Tim and Margery Fortescue, who moved to Hong Kong just before the war. The photo is taken at St John's Cathedral on the occasion of their oldest son's christening. Standing behind Margery (wearing the floral dress) and Tim (in white suit) is Captain Batty-Smith. 

Captain Batty-Smith in civilian uniform (Courtesy: Diana Fortescue) 

The christening, held on 15 August 1941, was attended by the out-going Governor, Sir Geoffrey Northcote, the Colonial Secretary N. L. Smith and Captain Batty-Smith. Tim, a young Government Cadet officer was appointed as Assistant Private Secretary to the Governor on his arrival. He worked closely with these officials at Government House. Diana Fortescue's research also revealed that he attended Bradfield Collge along with several of his siblings. The school's roll of honour for those who died in WW1 lists Francis Clive Batty-Smith, and under WW2 lists Sydney Harry Batty-Smith.

Art Collection at Government House

The Chater Art Collection was bequeathed to the Hong Kong Government after the death of Sir Paul Chater (1846-1926). These were held at Government House. After the outbreak of war in December 1941, Sir Mark Young ordered that the paintings be listed and stored, some of these were stored in the basement and cellars of Government House.  These were discovered by Japanese troops during the occupation, perhaps when the Japanese rebuilt the main house. Some of the art was buried in the grounds of Government House. Three men were involved, these were Thomas Harmon, Furniture Inspector with Public Works Department, and Mr Von Kobza-nagy a Hungarian art expert and restorer, and the redoubtable Batty-Smith. The paintings were removed from their frames, and folded into metal tubes before being buried in the garden. Only these three men knew the location of the buried tubes. Batty-Smith (deceased 1945) and Harmon (deceased 1943) died in Stanley Camp and  Kobza-nagy died out of camp in 1944. The secret perished with them. Although a number of searches were made after the war the buried items were never recovered.



Hong Kong Daily Press 12 March 1941
Hong Kong Daily Telegraph 1 March 1941

Aviator certificate details


Diana Fortescue
Nigel Batty-Smith


  1. Always so informative for good and interesting reading

  2. Rather enigmatic. He never got a khaki uniform for the tropics.

  3. He fought with my grandfather, Horace Gray Gilliland, in the Battle of Givenchy in 1914 - and I think was captured as a prisoner of war at about the same time as grandfather. They were both interred at Ingolstadt. I do have some photos from the camp and will look to see if Batty0Smith appears in them, now I have some idea of what he looks like,

    1. How interesting to have that connection and thanks for posting that. Philip

    2. Please post any you may have. Your grandfather is mentioned in this book (p74 amongst others)

  4. Most interesting piece, Phil. Many thanks for publishing.

  5. Who was he? Well he was the eldest of 5 siblings and only the second generation to bear the family name. An alumnus of Gonville and Caius College,Cambridge, he was, as has mentioned, an early aviator (Royal Aeronautical Club cert 680)but chose to stay in the Infantry and ultimately was taken prisoner at Givenchy (along with Lt Gilliland) both of whom are mentioned a few times in ‘The Escaping Club’, a great book about the indomitable inmates at the Ingolstadt POW camp during WW1. P74. His younger brother Francis (known as Clive) was often amused in the trenches of N France by letters of his exploits. We known this because his service (and tragic death) were narrated in another seminal work about the trenches (‘A Passionate Prodigality’ by Guy Chapman). Back to Sydney. My ongoing investigations suggest he at one point was teaching English at the Japanese Imperial University in the 20s before becoming ADC to HE, the Governor of HK.
    Who was he indeed! Well, he was my great uncle and far from being a Col Blimp type character I would respectfully suggest he was an Adventurer, an Academic (probably a bon-viveur) and a very brave man.
    Thank you so much for posting and finding these photos which I do not believe we have seen before. A very different look to that shown in others we have. Kind regards Mike Batty-Smith

    1. and on a side note, my father was also ADC to the governor of HK some 10 years later after Sydney, and my brother, father and I also attended Bradfield college where Sydney and 'Clive' went.

    2. Dear Mike: Many thanks for your post with its additional information and perspective. Philip

  6. Mention of my Great Uncle and CaptGilliland:

  7. I read somewhere, (rather annoyingly can’t quite put my finger on it right now), that when he was A.D.C. to H.E. Captain Smith-Batty had no time for that “new-fangled” electric light during dinners at Government House.
    He felt having electric lights was not “the done thing” - ladies and gentlemen should dine under candlelight and nothing else.
    How delightfully eccentric!

    I’m not sure how H.E., or his lady, or Government House staff, viewed such a sentiment!

    1. Yes you are right - he reportedly said that a gentleman never dines other than by candle-light or words to that effect.