Wednesday 1 February 2023

Captain Cyril (Potato) Jones , 2/RS

Captain Cyril Ramsay Jones, 2/RS, was a colourful and controversial character. When the battle started he was the commanding officer of 'A' Coy 2nd Battalion Royal Scots. He was blamed by many for the loss of the strongpoint  known as the Shing Mun Redoubt on the Gin Drinkers Line (GDL). He is often portrayed as a flamboyant and party-going type of officer. He was known as 'Potato' Jones and more disparagingly as 'Pansy' Jones. Was he to blame for the loss of the redoubt? Why was he known as 'Potato'? and what happened to him after the war? This post is an effort to find out more about this controversial officer. After the war he disappeared from view and did not turn up at regimental reunions. What did he do after the war ended and what became of him? Was he negligent in the defence of the redoubt or was he a victim of inadequate manning.  

Cyril Jones was born 18 January 1910 in Edmonton, North London. His parents, Henry Brereton Jones and Louisa Carlisle Ramsay, were born in Montevideo, Uruguay of British parentage. His father, Henry Jones (1869-1924), graduated from Cambridge University and entered the clergy in 1892. He was attached to various churches in London. University records state that had been a 'partial cripple' since childhood and that he was 'more and more hampered by his infirmity but always showed great courage and refused to allow it to hinder his work'. He was the Vicar of St James's Church, Upper Edmonton from 1909 to 1924. He died aged 54 at St James's vicarage. It was here that Cyril Jones spent his formative years. The 1911 census shows nine residents at the vicarage. These included one year old Cyril Jones, his parents, an aunt and two house guests. The household also included three servants, a cook and two housemaids. Today the church has been deconsecrated and converted into flats and I think the same fate may have befallen the vicarage.

Cyril Jones was the eldest of three siblings, Keena Mary Jones (1911-1999) and Edward Brereton Jones (1913-1941). Cyril was sent to Marlborough College where he served as a lance corporal in the college cadet corps. After leaving school he graduated from Oxford University. Information is sketchy but he is said to have worked as a journalist. He married Agnes Mary Marr (1908-1966) at Marylebone in October 1937. Jones was twenty-seven when he married Agnes whose family lived in Edinburgh. Two years later a notice in the London Gazette dated June 1939 announces his commission as a 2/Lt in the 8th Battalion Royal Scots which I believe was a territorial battalion. His commission seems to have been helped by his service in the Marlborough College Cadet Contingent. The war started a few months later in September 1939 and sometime between 1939 and 1941 Cyril Jones was posted to the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots who were based in Hong Kong. 

In the pre-war (1941) photograph above - Captain Jones (probably then a lieutenant) is seen standing in the back row at centre. He is wearing battle dress and a tam o shanter (headdress) which replaced the red and white checked glengarry in 1941. He stands out because of his height. He was six foot four inches. Thirty-one year old Jones must have been glad to be assigned to Hong Kong. The war had not come to Hong Kong. The lights were on and the bars and restaurants were full. It was a city known for its sports activities and its vigorous social and night life. Although the threat of a Japanese invasion of the colony had lingered since 1938 when Japanese troops arrived in South China. Jones reputation for hard drinking and party-going did not enamour him to Brigadier Cedric Wallis, his brigade commander. Wallis said of Jones: 'I formed my opinion of Captain Jones as a weak Company Commander prior to the outbreak of hostilities particularly during the training and from personal observation'. (UKNA CAB 106/166).

Emily Hahn, the feisty American Author and writer for the New Yorker describes how she met Jones, then a lieutenant, at a party at J. J. Paterson's home in Fan Ling. She writes in China to me (1944)  that Doctor Tony Dawson-Grove arrived 'while I was being entertained by one Lt Jones of the Royal Scots, who at the age of thirty was getting a reputation as a character'. Dawson-Grove greets Jones,  'How are you Pansy'. Dawson-Grove and Jones had been at Oxford together.  

Jones assumed command of 'A' Coy in October 1941. On 11 November his company occupied their war stations on the western flank of the GDL. Jones established his Coy HQ in the Artillery Observation Post (AOP) at the rear of the redoubt. The AOP was large with plenty of space for his ten-man HQ. He shared the AOP with the Royal Artillery personnel consisting of  Lt Wilcox, RA, and four British and Indian other ranks who manned the AOP. From the AOP the Royal Artillery personnel could observe fall of shot and direct the fire onto the respective target area. The platoon defending the redoubt, known as the Shing Mun Platoon, was commanded by 2/Lt Jack Thomson. This was one of three platoons that made up 'A' Coy. The platoon consisted of twenty-six men. Not enough to cover this large complex of tunnels, and inter-connected pillboxes, trenches and firing bays. 

A Royal Scots officer in 1941 on the Gin Drinkers Line

The redoubt was attacked on the second night of the battle (Tuesday 9 December 1941). Jones,  Thomson and Wilcox were surrounded inside the AOP together with some seventeen other ranks. They were unable to get out through the grill gate at the bottom of a flight of steps leading from the kitchen area  (known as the Strand Palace Hotel) located close to the tunnel entrance. The gate had been locked by Private Wylie. Wylie took the key with him when he went down to meet Mike Kendall, from a special operations unit, who wanted to brief Jones on enemy movements he had observed during the day. However the redoubt was attacked before Wylie could escort Kendall to Jones's HQ in the AOP.  This left the trap door in the roof as the only point of egress. A few other ranks were able to get in by way of the trap door, but by the time Jones and Thomson tried to get out and take command of the Shing Mun Platoon the AOP had been surrounded and each time the trap door lid was lifted it brought down rifle and machine gun fire. The next day the Japanese used explosives to force an entry. Jones had no choice, the AOP had been breached, and he surrendered the position. 

Captain  Jones (bottom left) taken prisoner at the Shing Mun Redoubt 10 December 1941

In the-photograph above we see Jones, his hair neatly parted, moustachioed and marching ram-rod straight with other Royal Scots and Royal Artillery gunners captured at the redoubt. The soldier with a patch over his eye is 2/Lt Thomson partially blinded by grenade shrapnel when the AOP was breached. After interrogation at Japanese HQ  at Tai Po the prisoners were held in a villa at Fan Ling. The villa was used as a temporary internment facility. The villa had been the home of William Stanton and Elsa, his wealthy American wife. When Jones entered Sham Shui Po Camp three weeks later he was remembered for striking a dramatic poise as he strode in wearing a ladies expensive fur coat which he had purloined from Elsa Stanton's wardrobe.

The loss of the redoubt, resulted in the line being compromised in that Japanese troops occupying the redoubt could fire down on the rest of the line  extending from the redoubt to the sea.  The line had to be moved back to the ridge running from Golden Hill to Lai Chi Kok. This was steep and difficult terrain and most importantly it was unprepared. There were no slit trenches, no barbed wire and no minefields.  The Royal Scots gave ground and a decision to evacuate the Mainland was made on 11 December. Brigadier Wallis was furious that the redoubt had been captured and his Mainland Brigade had to be evacuated earlier than planned from the Mainland. A Court of Enquiry was convened in May 1942 at Argyle Street Officers Camp to look into the culpability of the loss of the redoubt. 

Brigadier Wallis, who considered Jones to be a weak officer, stated that he considered objecting to Jones being promoted to company commander with the responsibility for the redoubt.  However, in the end he decided not to override his battalion commander. He wanted the battalion commander, Lt Col Simon White, to be free to command and fight his battalion as he thought best. During a visit before the battle with Major General Maltby and Col Newnham (senior staff officer) he had stressed the importance of the men being in slit trenches above ground and only using the PBs for shelter during aerial or artillery bombardment. The PBs could be used for storage and for long shoots utilising their fixed mountings.  He had stressed the importance of patrolling forward. 'A' Coy had three platoons. One based at the Redoubt under Lt Thomson and one based at Pineapple Hill, a flat-topped hill on the west side of the reservoir near Pineapple Dam, with the third platoon occupying the area south west of Pineapple Dam. 

Jones was criticised for the lack of listening posts (static patrols). If he had placed a listening post  near the dam - they would have heard the deployment of two Japanese battalions. The Japanese commander, Colonel Doi, used two companies of his third battalion to attack the redoubt. To do this his men crossed the main dam to reach the redoubt. Another Japanese battalion was deployed in the Shing Mun River gorge ready to attack Smuggler's Ridge once the redoubt had been captured. The remaining battalion was held in reserve. Static patrols or forward fighting and recce patrols would have come across these Japanese deployments. It is true that Lt Thomson had just returned from a patrol but he had patrolled laterally along Smugglers Ridge to 'D' Coy Rajputs HQ rather patrolling forward. The main dam was the critical point and had been left unguarded. It was a mixture of incompetence and lack of manning. The twenty-six men that made up the Shing Mun Platoon was not enough to defend the redoubt which covered 250 yards north-south and 350 yards northeast-southwest.  At least a company would have been needed to properly man the redoubt and conduct sufficient  static and mobile patrols. Even if a company had been deployed and proper patrolling had been implemented it would only have delayed the inevitable capture of the strongpoint. The Japanese were able to concentrate their force.  Colonel Doi had three battalions at his disposal each consisting of one thousand men. Wallis recognised that a single platoon was not desirable but more troops were simply not available. Lt Douglas Baird, 'B' Coy positioned on Pineapple Ridge between 'C' Coy and 'A' Coy recalled that there was a half mile gap between the platoon on his left and that on his right. 

The Court of Enquiry never completed its task. It was adjourned and left in abeyance and finally dropped. The transcript of the proceedings was buried in Argyle Street Camp with the intention of recovering it after the war. It was, however, never found. After Lt-Col Simon White died in the 1950s it transpired that he had kept a copy of the proceedings perhaps in order to defend the good name of his battalion. He had kept the copy concealed throughout his incarceration. It was lodged in the National Archives and access was restricted for 50 years until 2008.

Robert Gandt, the author of Season of Storms (1982) wrote that 'in camp he (Captain Cyril Jones) achieved dubious fame as a willing lecturer on any and all subjects. At the war's end, instead of boarding the troopship home with other POWs, he, characteristically, hitched a ride aboard a submarine. After a brief post war career as a journalist, Potato Jones dropped from sight, still controversial.' 



  1. A detailed recount. A thorough Research. Thank you for doing this. Great work.

  2. Many thanks for a very detailed account, Phil. Many years ago I wrote to Gandt about Jones. He replied that after the war Jones returned to journalism and was to be found in pubs in London, where for the price of a pint he would tell you how he “saved Hong Kong” during the 1941 battle!

    Apparently he was allowed to continue service with the Royal Scots (Territorials), but I don’t know in what capacity.