Saturday, 2 May 2020

No. 1 Battery, HKVDC

The Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC) was mobilised following the declaration of a State of Emergency on Sunday 7 December 1941.  No. 1 Battery, HKVDC, was responsible for a battery of two 4-inch naval guns located on a hillside at Cape D’Aguilar on the south-eastern extremity of Hong Kong Island. The battery, known as D'Aguilar Battery, consisted of some 69 men and three officers. The senior ranks were as follows:

Captain George F. Rees, Commander Officer

Lt H.S. Jones, 2 i/c 

2/Lt Hugh G. Muir

Battery Sgt-Major John L. G. Oswald

Battery Quartermaster Sgt Michel J. Harkins

It was a coastal defence battery designed to engage enemy vessels rather than landward firing. The battery formed part of Eastern Fire Command along with other coastal defence batteries in the eastern sector of the Island, including Collinson (2 x 6-inch), Fort Bokhara (2 x 9.2-inch), Stanley (3 x 9.2-inch) and Chung Hom Kok (2 x 6-inch). Fort Bokhara was situated below and within a kilometre of D’Aguilar Battery. The large calibre 9.2-inch guns at Stanley and Bokhara were capable of traversing and firing inland. However, the bulk of the ammunition for the coastal defence batteries was armour piercing which was more suitable for the coastal defence role of firing at seaborne targets. There was insufficient anti-personnel (shrapnel) and high explosive (H.E.) ammunition for landward firing. 
   On Sunday 7 December, the battery personnel were ordered to report to HKVDC HQ at Garden Road. They were issued with rifles, ammunition and grenades. At 1700 hours they set off for their battery position in trucks.  It took an hour along the narrow roads to reach the battery at D’Aguilar. Equipment had to be man-handled to the battery position above Cape D'Aguilar Road. The next morning Monday 8 December, the war started. The battery personnel were mustered at 0800 hours and informed that war had started.

Battery Observation Post at Bokhara 9.2-inch Battery
The period from 8 December until 19 December was relatively uneventful for No. 1 Battery. Some Japanese vessels were spotted but they were well out of range. The nearby Bokhara Battery fired some rounds at Japanese vessels at extreme range. The guns at Bokhara were also used extensively for landward firing at Japanse troops on the Mainland. Generally, the Japanese Navy stayed well back because of the array of coastal defence batteries, contact and remote-controlled mines and the presence of British MTBs. 
   The D’Aguilar Battery manned by No. 1 Battery, HKVDC, also included a Fire Command Post and a Fortress Observation Post, manned by the regular Army, in addition to the two 4-inch gun emplacements and BOP manned by the Volunteers.

Battery Buildings at D'Aguilar 4-inch Battery
Possibly the Fortress Observation Post (FOP) at D'Aguilar Bty
During the night of Thursday 18 December, the Japanese landed, an estimated, 8,000 infantry and artillery on the northeast shore of the Island. The Japanese troops moved quickly inland, and by the mid-morning on Friday 19 December, there was a concern that troops and gun positions in the eastern sector of the Island may be cut off. Accordingly, a decision was made to withdraw all troops in the eastern sector to Stanley, and form a defensive perimeter in the hills around Stanley. Sgt Leslie Millington recalls that at 1000 hours they were ordered to put the guns out of action and withdraw.

At about 10 a.m., the Master-Gunner from the Fire Control Post below us came running up and gave orders to blow up our guns and retreat to Stanley Fort. … We marched most of the way and the chaps who had cars ran a shuttle service to and fro. When we arrived at Stanley Fort we were put to work digging trenches around the peninsula.

The trenches were on the south side of Stanley Fort and facing out to sea. The battery personnel manned these trenches at night and rested during daylight hours in Stanley Fort. The fort was subjected to aerial bombing and then artillery fire as the Japanese drew closer. The Japanese advanced on Stanley and the final, fierce battle for Stanley took place on 24/25 December. 
   On Wednesday 24 December, the battery personnel were moved from Stanley Fort to St Stephen's College, Stanley. They were to fight as infantry and man a support line.  Earlier that day Captain Rees took an advance party, consisting of a sergeant and four gunners down to the 1/Mx HQ at St Stephen’s Prep School. A regular officer showed them the positions that they were to occupy later that evening after nightfall. Their positions formed a second line of defence, or support line, between Stanley Village and the fort. The first line of defence ran across the peninsula from east to west with the police station at Stanley village being the centre of the line. The support line extended east-west across the grounds of St Stephens College.

Prison Officers Club - used as East Brigade HQ 
Sgt Harry Millington’s MG detachment was positioned on the right flank near the entrance to St Stephen's College on the Prison Road (Tung Tao Wan Road). His brother, Sgt Leslie Millington was positioned with his MG detachment some 100 metres to the left, closer to the college main building and the tennis courts. The remaining two detachments were spread out across the line of staff bungalows and Fort Road (Wong Ma Kok Road). Captain Rees established his HQ at one of the staff bungalows, possibly Bungalow ‘A’ since it was positioned at the centre of the line and had been vacated by Royal Rifles of Canada. They had used it briefly as Battalion HQ. 2/Lt Muir garrisoned Bungalow ‘C’ on the extreme left flank of the line.  The battle for Stanley Village began that night. The defenders on the support line could hear the cacophony of battle, artillery fire, machine-gun fire, grenade and mortar explosions as the Japanese using tanks and waves of infantry attacked the front line in Stanley Village. The front line was defended by No. 2 Coy, HKVDC, the Stanley Platoon, HKVDC, made up of prison officers many of whom were veterans of WW1. The Royal Artillery manned anti-tank guns and members of the Middlesex Regiment armed with Vickers machine guns manned a bungalow at the junction of the Prison Road and Fort Road. The senior officer in command was Major Forsyth commanding officer of No. 2 Coy, HKVDC. He was armed with a Tommy gun and positioned himself in the centre of the village. He was fatally wounded and carried into the police station. After fierce and close-quarter fighting the Japanese were able to break through on the flanks. The line broke and the survivors withdrew to the support line.  Sgt Leslie Millington and his brother Sgt Harry Millington heard the sound of running men coming along the Prison Road from the village.  These were followed by Japanese troops and Sgt Harry Millington opened fire at the Japanese on the road. Sgt Leslie Millington was soon in action as Japanese troops were seen advancing near the college tennis courts on which his detachment had a line of fire. The Japanese responded with machine-gun fire and mortar fire during which Gunner Eugene Yourieff was wounded by shrapnel from a mortar bomb. 
   The exchange of fire continued until around 0500 hours on Christmas Day. Japanese troops had infiltrated closer to Sgt Leslie Millington’s positions and were able to utilise an incendiary device (flame-thrower) which set fire to the machine gun and the nearby magazine area. With the Lewis gun now out of action, Millington gave orders to his men to withdraw to the right towards Sgt Harry Millington’s position on the Prison Road. When they regrouped after the withdrawal they found Gunner George Sloss was missing. It was later found that he had been captured.
   At dawn, a regular officer, from HQ at the Prison Officers Club, ordered Sgt Leslie Millington to go back to his previous position. By this time, they could hear Japanese at or near the main college building. The main building was being used as a Relief Military Hospital. The Japanese went in at dawn and in an unfettered rage, they killed a large number of patients and medical orderlies. Many of the patients were bayoneted as they lay in their beds. Two doctors were killed and European and Chinese nurses were raped and three of them were mutilated and killed. It was difficult for Millington to reoccupy his position. His detachment consisted of eight men armed only with rifles, and only one grenade between them. Their position was untenable on a level with the main college building. In the impending daylight, they would be easily seen by Japanese troops located in and around the main school building. Millington recalled their effort to reoccupy the position that they had manned the previous night.

I had to go, so with my chaps, I crept quietly up to the bank. … We peeped over the top onto the flat space, nobody was more surprised than we were to see about fifty Japanese sitting around having their chow. The grenade was thrown and, as I didn’t feel like leading a bayonet charge, we opened up a rapid rifle fire. The Japanese beat a hasty retreat to the other side of the flat area and began to lob grenades at us. They seemed to have an endless supply. We stayed like this, exchanging fire for about five minutes, and as I thought it was pretty hopeless I again ordered the lads to re-join Harry, which we did with the loss of another chap, Skinner.

In fact, Gunner Skinner was wounded but not killed. He was hospitalised but it is not clear where. He may have made his way back to the prison road and sought medical assistance at the Prison Hospital. St Stephens College Hospital was nearer but was occupied by Japanese troops. Sgt Leslie Millington re-joined his brother Sgt Harry Millington on the prison road. However, they were coming under sniper fire from the Annex one of the college buildings which overlooked the road.  They took shelter behind a bank on the road and returned fire. They lost two men from Sgt Harry Millington’s detachment, Gunner Sam Gerzo and Gunner Graham Lawson, during this exchange of fire.

Modified sketch map from Millington's Diary (IWM)
They decided to move back towards the prison. Sgt Harry Millington died whilst providing covering fire. Leslie Millington recalls bullets hitting the road behind him as he rushed towards the Prison Officer’s Club. The colony surrendered that afternoon. Those at the Prison Officer’s Club Building were notified of the surrender by either a dispatch rider or runner from Stanley Prison at around 1700 hours on 25 December.  They were ordered to leave their weapons and ammunition and walk down to Stanley Prison about 200 metres away. The volunteer and regular soldiers at the prison remained there until Saturday 27 December when they were taken to Stanley Fort to join the other surrendered military personnel from the Stanley area. On Monday 29 December they were marched from Stanley Fort through Tai Tam Gap to North Point where they started the three-and-half-year period of brutal incarceration. 
   In the course of the fighting at Stanley, the battery suffered 35 fatalities. A death rate of over 50% incurred within a 24-hour period.

Members of the Battery

Last NameFirst NameRankDate of Death
AlexanderWilliam LGnr24-Dec-41
AllenDouglas  GeoffreyGunner
BenuchLeonard  John Gunner
BlissArthur Sydney (Sonny)GNR25-Dec-41
ButlinStrathmore  TathamGnr25-Dec-41
Collins-TaylorDouglas HarleyL-Bdr25-Dec-41
Duffy Jocelyn TierneyGunner25-Dec-41
Engelbrecht Raymond JGunner
GerzoSamuel  DanielGunner25-Dec-41
GriffithsRonald  HannamGunner25-Dec-41
HarkinsMitchell JosephBQMS
HenningsenFrederick Forbes Gunner
HoLok Kee Gunner25-Dec-41
JohnsonLloyd  GeorgeGunner25-Dec-41
Johnson George EdwardSgt
JongeDe GillaesGunner
LanderJohn Gerard HeathGunner25-Dec-41
LawsonW  GrahamGunner25-Dec-41
LodgeCyril JohnGunner25-Dec-41
MackenzieNorman  HGunner
McCabeLawrence  HughGunner25-Dec-41
MillingtonLeslie CharlesSgt
MillingtonHenry  (Harry) JamesSgt25-Dec-41
MuirHugh Gordon2nd Lt25-Dec-41
NashRobert  CharlesGunner25-Dec-41
OswaldJohn Lee GuinnessBSM
PedersenKay  WGunner
PomeroyJohn  BernardGunner
ReesGeorge FrederickCaptWounded in action
RudrofWladyslaw PawelGunner25-Dec-41
Samuel  HerbertGunner25-Dec-41
SayersMax W Gunner25-Dec-41
SlossGeoff  DuncanGunner
SmithCharles  AGunner25-Dec-41
SmithJohn Reginald MartinGunner24-Dec-41
StoneGeoffrey  Paul L-Bdr25-Dec-41
SwanMalcolm McDonaldGunner
TseninEugene AlexesGunner
TuckerNorman FosterGunner
WalreeErik  VanGunner
WatsonRussell  A E Gunner
WellerFrederick Anthony ("Tony")Gunner
WyllieRoy LeslieGunner25-Dec-41
YourieffEugene  GGunner
Yung Yue Wang Gunner25-Dec-41

Millington's Diary held at IWM

Friday, 21 February 2020

Robert Grindley Southerton - Stanley Internment Camp

This is the poignant story of a family who lived in Shanghai before the war. A husband, wife, and two children who became separated from each other by the outbreak of war. The husband, Robert Grindley Southerton, was interned in Hong Kong, the wife and son were incarcerated in Manila, and the eldest daughter was alone at the family home in Shanghai. For several months none of them knew where the others were, or even whether they were still alive. Reading their private letters I can see that they were a very loving and close family. At the time Robert Southerton was fifty-years-old, he had been a teacher most of his adult life. After graduating from Chester College, he came out to Hong Kong in 1912 at the age of twenty-one. He taught at the Diocesan Boys School (DBS) in Kowloon. He married Edith Ethel (known as Edie) nee Witchell in 1917. In the wedding photo below, he is in uniform and so I assume during WW1 he joined the HKVDC (the Volunteers).

Robert Southerton (Sr) and Edie at their wedding in 1917  (Lorna Loveland)
The wedding took place on 6 November at St John's Cathedral in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Telegraph for 6 November reports on the well-attended wedding. The bride's father, Samuel Job Witchell, (known as Job), was the Manager of the well-known King Edward Hotel. Job Witchell had first come to Hong Kong in 1882 and had served with the Hong Kong Police Force. In 1897 he was an Inspector and at that time institutional corruption was widespread in the police force. An investigation was carried out and Job Witchell was sentenced to 6-month's imprisonment. I suspect he may have been something of a 'fall guy' as there were many others who got away lightly, or entirely, because of insufficient evidence. After release, Job became Manager of the brick and tile works at Deep Water Bay  (Brick Hill). In 1915 he took up his role at the King Edward Hotel, considered to be one of the best hotels in Hong Kong. Job died in 1925, in Hong Kong, at the age of sixty-seven, after having suffered from cancer. Despite the earlier stain on his character, he was always well regarded and his funeral was very well-attended. In 1929, the King Edward Hotel was destroyed by a fire. Nine of the hotel guests lost their lives, two were killed by the fire and seven by jumping from the upper floors. Two of the hotel's employees were killed.

Job Witchell  (Source: Lorna Loveland)

Robert gave up teaching at DBS and briefly worked for British American Tobacco (BAT). The couple's first child, a daughter Muriel (known as Mully), was born in Hong Kong in 1919. In 1922, a second daughter Lilian May died in infancy aged three months. Robert went back to teaching, firstly in Tsingtao, and then in Shanghai. A son, also named Robert Grindley Southerton, was born in Shanghai in 1926. Robert Southerton (Snr) taught  English, Maths and Sports and co-authored a book on maths. By 1941 he was the headmaster of the Shanghai Municipal Council (SMC) Polytechnic School (shown in the photograph below).

SMC Polytechnic Public School 
In July 1941, he and his his wife Edie, and their fifteen-year-old son Robert (known as Bob)  took a long vacation in Australia. They returned from Australia on the MV Neptuna which arrived at Hong Kong in November 1941. The family sailed from Hong Kong on the SS Yu Sang expecting to be back in Shanghai and to be reunited with their twenty-two-year-old daughter Muriel (Mully) by early December. Muriel worked as a stenographer for Confederation Life, a Canadian insurance company.

In a letter to his family written in August 1945, Southerton wrote that they arrived on the Yu Sang at Woosung, Shanghai and anchored offshore. It was December 1941, it was the eve of battle and tensions were running high. The next morning, before they could disembark, the ship was ordered to return to Hong Kong without docking in Shanghai. The ship anchored in Hong Kong harbour, but Edie and Bob, and another female passenger, Mrs McCready, were not allowed to leave the ship and go ashore. Armed police were put aboard to ensure they did not disembark. I can only assume that the reason for such harsh treatment was that Hong Kong had been subject to a compulsory evacuation order in July 1940. A large number of women and children had been allowed to stay because the women were in essential services, like nursing or working as stenographers for the government. However many had avoided the evacuation by being absent during registration, or simply failing to show up, and some had falsely claimed they were in roles for which there was an exemption, for example, being a business proprietor. Some had illegally returned after evacuation.   There was no restriction on men leaving the ship. Robert Southerton (Snr) went ashore and stayed with his wife's family members (the Witchell family) in Hong Kong. Robert planned to get ashore and then get help from the authorities for his wife and son to be allowed off the ship. Robert and his brother-in-law, George Witchell, sought help from Duncan Sloss, the Vice-Chancellor of HK University, he appealed to the Governor, Sir Mark Young on Southerton's behalf. George's niece, May Witchell, worked for Duncan Sloss at HKU. The intervention was successful, and it was arranged that the police would bring certain papers to the ship on Sunday 7 December. Once the papers were signed, Edie and Bob would be allowed to disembark. On that Saturday night (6 December) Robert came aboard with George Witchell, his wife, Dolly, and their daughter Norah. They had dinner with Edie and Bob and then left the ship at around 11:30 p.m. thinking everything would be sorted the next day.

At about midnight Edie heard a commotion in the saloon. It transpired that the ship had received emergency orders to sail to Singapore early the following morning. Edie was still not allowed off the ship to contact her husband. It was only when she threatened to jump off the ship that the police became a bit more accommodating. They allowed Bob, accompanied by a  policeman,  to go ashore and to inform his father who was staying at George Witchell's house. However, nothing could be done in time, and so it was decided that there was no point in Robert staying on the Yu Sang and going to Singapore. He, therefore, disembarked with the intention of getting a passage to Shanghai as soon as possible. That morning, Sunday 7 December, the day before the war began, the Yu Sang, along with many other ships that had been anchored in Hong Kong Harbour sailed under orders for Singapore. 

The Yu Sang stopped at Manila in the Philippines and anchored in Manila Bay on 9 December, the day after the war began. The Philippines, Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong were all under attack. The Yu Sang was bombed by Japanese aircraft, and a ship anchored close-by was hit and set ablaze. After the air raid, the crew mutinied and insisted that the Captain take the ship to a safer location.  The ship moved away from Manila and anchored off Mariveles. She remained there for eleven days before returning to Manila to replenish food supplies. The passengers were taken off and moved by the Red Cross to Caloocan Golf Club in Manila. Edie and Bob were subsequently 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 (mainly Canadian and Australian) internees. 

Santo Tomas University Internment Camp. (Source: Wikipedia)
Back in Hong Kong, after the Japanese captured Kowloon, Robert Southerton (Snr) was initially held at the Kowloon YMCA together other European civilians and the staff from the Kowloon Hospital.   He was later moved to the Kowloon Hotel Temporary Internment Centre. In late January, he was moved to Stanley Internment Camp. Those, like Robert, who lived in Shanghai were later repatriated back to Japanese controlled Shanghai. There were two repatriations, one in July and one in  December 1942. Robert returned to Shanghai in July 1942. On his ship, there were around twenty other internees. However, they were accommodated in cabins albeit sharing with five others. Robert Southerton (Snr) was reunited with his daughter Muriel in late September.

It was at about that time that he discovered his wife and son had not reached Singapore and instead had been interned in the Philippines. Edie and Bob were repatriated from Manila to Shanghai in September 1942. They were put aboard the Maya Maru, a former cargo ship which had been put to use as a trooper. Edie and Bob, together with about thirty other internees, were accommodated on platforms in the hold. The hold was also carrying army horses. The internees were allowed out on the deck during the day but at night they were confined to the hold which was infested with rats, cockroaches and other vermin. Edie had the unpleasant experience of being bitten by a rat. The ship took ten days to reach Shanghai and during that time some of the horses died from the heat and were left to rot in the hold.

The family were at last reunited. At first, British, American and Dutch civilians living in Shanghai were not interned. However, in February 1943, the Japanese decided to intern civilians from these countries. There were several different internment camps in and around Shanghai. The family were interned 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 Municipal Council employees. At Yangtzepoo Camp, Robert Southerton (Snr) was elected as Deputy Head of the internment camp. The family were repatriated to the UK after the war. Robert (Snr) weighed 190 pounds when he left Australia on the Neptuna in 1941, but by release in August 1945, he weighed only 138 pounds. The privations of life in Japanese internment camps, the diseases, the shortage of medicines and the lack of adequate food took its toll on their health. Robert Southerton died in February 1948 aged only fifty-six after suffering a heart attack. Edith died the following year in November 1949, having suffered a stroke,  she was only fifty-three.

The MV Neptuna on which the Robert, Edie and Bob took passage from Australia to Hong Kong was sunk during the Japanese air raid on Darwin in February 1942. She was unloading armaments when she was hit by bombs in the engine room and in the main saloon. Some of the ordnance ignited causing a massive explosion. Forty-five men were killed. The Maya Maru was sunk by an American submarine in July 1944. The Yu Sang was requisitioned by the US Navy, but was bombed and exploded in Manila Bay. Shanghai, once known as 'the Paris of the East', did not regain its former opulence in the immediate post-war period. After the Japanese capitulation, civil war returned to  China eventually leading to the defeat of the KMT by the communist forces.

After first writing this blog, with very little information other than a letter written by RGS (Snr) held at the Imperial War Museum, I was contacted by Lorna Loveland, the daughter of Robert (Bob) Grindley Southerton (Jnr). She had come across my blog whilst researching on the internet and I am indebted to her for the photographs and updated information on the family. Edie's niece, May Witchell, was in Stanley Camp with her married sister Maude and her Aunt (Dolly), her Uncle (George) and her cousin (Norah). May Witchell later married Colonel Lindsay Ride who set up the British Army Aid Group (BAAG) in Free China after having escaped from Sham Shui Po prisoner of war camp.

Photo Gallery:

RGS (Snr) (Source Lorna Loveland)

Edie (Source: Lorna)

Robert Grindley Southerton (Jnr) (Source: Lorna)

Muriel (Mully) Southerton (Source: Lorna)
The sinking of the MV Neptuna (Source: Wikipedia)

King Edward Hotel (1904-1929) (Source: Wikipedia) 

Lorna Loveland for photographs and private letters
Log Book of Internees Stanley Camp (Imperial War Museum)
Frank Fisher's diary (Imperial War Museum)
Captives of Empire by Greg Leck
Letter from R. G. Southerton (Snr) dated 26 Aug 1945 (IWM Docs. 13452) (for information about Job Mitchell's trial and the hotel fire)