Wednesday 29 March 2023

Robert & Marjorie Grindley

I received an email at home in Stanley, Hong Kong, from Peter West, the Museum Manager at the Eastchurch Aviation Museum located on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. He described how a set of medals awarded to one Robert John Vaughan Grindley had been passed to the museum. I immediately recognised the name and was able to confirm that Robert Grindley had been a prison officer in Hong Kong and had served in the Stanley Platoon of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC). 

During the battle in December 1941, he had taken part in the close quarter fighting in and around Stanley Village and the road approaching the prison. He and his wife, Marjorie Betsy (Betty) Grindley, a volunteer nurse, were interned at Stanley Civilian Internment Camp (a Japanese run prison camp) from January 1942 until the Japanese surrender in August 1945. In the mid-1950s they retired and settled in Minster, on the Isle of Sheppey. It seems firstly at 110, Wards Hill Road, the address was given on a 1951 and 1954 passenger manifest, and later at No. 2 Seaside Avenue which connects with Wards Hill Road. The medals were found in a faded brown envelope in the attic of a bungalow named 'Tintagel' in nearby Whitethorn Gardens in 2018. The medals were recently passed to the museum who were interested in identifying whether there were any direct descendants, children or grandchildren to whom they could pass the medals, otherwise the museum will continue to look after them. 

The War Medals - courtesy Peter West (Eastchurch Aviation Museum)

The medals from left to right consist of:

1939-1945 Star, 

the Pacific Star,

the Defence Medal

1939 - 1945 War Medal

Hong Kong Efficiency Medal 

The two star-medals have Robert Grindley's name engraved on the reverse and the other three medals have his name engraved on the rim. This is unusual as WW2 campaign medals issued to members of the British forces were not named (engraved or impressed). Peter Weedon, a war medal enthusiast, advised me that some recipients of such medals had their names privately engraved. Apparently Boots, the high street store, offered this engraving service at that time. It was only because these medals had been engraved that they could be  linked to their original owner. Peter Weedon advised that the Efficiency Medal is quite rare as only 224 were issued with the Hong Kong clasp. 

The reverse of the medals - courtesy Peter West (Eastchurch Aviation Museum)

So who were Robert and Marjorie Grindley. We know a bit more about Marjorie because in 1980, six years after her husband's death she recorded an oral history interview for the Imperial War Museum (IWM) about her wartime experiences during the battle and her recollections of life at Stanley Internment Camp. 

Robert John Vaughan Grindley was born 9 December 1904 in Coventry. He shared the same name as his father who was born in 1877 and died in 1968. At the age of 16, in 1920, he joined the Royal Navy. His service record shows a history of good conduct and details the warships he served on. He discharged himself, by purchase in 1934, while serving on HMS Tamar the base ship in Hong Kong. He then joined the Hong Kong Prison Service.  Many of the European prison officers in Hong Kong were ex-servicemen like Robert.

Marjorie Grindley (I have not yet discovered her maiden name) was born in March 1917 in Luton a suburb of Chatham. She was brought up in Gillingham. In 1922, aged five, she went to Hong Kong for a period of 3 years while her father, a civilian working for the Admiralty, was assigned to the colony. Marjorie and her family returned to Gillingham in or about 1925. After leaving school, she went to secretarial college and after graduating worked for a firm of solicitors. In 1936, her father was assigned again to Hong Kong for a second stint.  Marjorie, eighteen years old at the time went with him, although reluctantly as it meant leaving her boyfriend in England. She quickly got a job as a stenographer working for the Hong Kong Government. As a government employee, she was exempt from the compulsory evacuation of British women and children that took place in June/July 1940. She enrolled as a volunteer nurse in the Auxiliary Nursing Service (ANS). She lived in Gap Road and enjoyed the better life style of an expatriate in Hong Kong compared to life in the UK at that time. They had a Chinese servant and enjoyed the vibrant social life that Hong Kong provided and as a single lady she had ample invitations to dances and other social events. 

Romance returned and she married, the former Royal Navy sailor, Robert Grindley. I have not been able to establish the date of their wedding but it must have been between 1937 and 1940 in Hong Kong. Robert was thirteen years older than Marjorie. There is no record of there being any children from their marriage. After their wedding she and Robert moved into the European Married Quarters (EMQ) in the Stanley Prison compound. Her parents returned to UK before the outbreak of war in Hong Kong. Robert, along with most of his colleagues joined the Stanley Platoon of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corp (HKVDC). The HKVDC was a militia made up of civilians including British, Portuguese, Chinese, Russian and many other nationalities. The Stanley Platoon was made up of prison officers most of whom had military experience. 

During the Battle for Hong Kong, Robert was fighting around Stanley Village and the road leading to the prison. Marjorie described in the IWM interview how he and Captain Chatty were at the Prison Officers Club 'picking off the Japanese as they came down the road'. Chatty was the former adjutant of the 1st Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. He had been serving a prison sentence at Stanley having been found guilty of sexual assault on a Chinese youth in King's Park Kowloon after a night of heavy drinking and opium taking. He had been released on the outbreak of war and had fought gallantly having been restored to the rank of temporary captain. Marjorie was still living in their flat at the EMQ and working as an ANS nurse at the temporary hospital known as Tweed Bay. Before the war, the hospital had been used to accommodate Indian single prison officers who had dormitory style accommodation. The former accommodation block converted to a hospital was originally designed for civilian  casualties but as the fighting drew closer to Stanley the casualties were mainly military. There were three hospitals at Stanley. The temporary military hospital at St Stephen's College, the temporary civilian hospital at Tweed Bay and the purpose built, albeit small, hospital in the Prison. As the flats were increasingly machine gunned and hit by artillery fire, Marjory moved into the hospital at Tweed Bay with another lady and her baby who had been billeted in her flat at the EMQ. At the hospital, Marjory recalled the number of amputations being carried out by Dr Hackett, the Prison Doctor. She also described the burials with the graves being hastily dug by Cannon Martin, the Headmaster of the adjacent St Stephen's College.

After the battle ended, during the evening on Christmas Day, Robert and Marjorie were allowed to move back into the prison along with most of the Stanley Platoon. It is not clear whether they were already wearing their wardens uniforms or whether they were in military uniform. If the latter they no doubt made a quick change into their prison officers uniforms. In late January they were moved from the prison to Stanley Internment Camp. The camp consisted of the grounds and buildings at St Stephen's College and the prison compound (except the actual prison itself which the Japanese continued to use). The prison officers accommodation blocks were used as part of the internment camp. The camp housed some 3,000 British, American and Dutch civilians. 

Robert and Marjorie were initially billeted in the Indian Quarters (IQ). These red-brick blocks (shown in the background of the photograph below) originally accommodated married Indian prison wardens and their families. Robert and Marjorie shared a small flat with nine internees, four in one room and five in the other room.  At the beginning they slept on the concrete floor. The only bedding was the blankets they had brought in from the prison. One of her room-mates a married prison officer stole tinned food that Marjory had kept in a suitcase. She never spoke to him again. After the Americans were repatriated in July 1942 as part of a civilian prisoner exchange, Robert and Marjory, were re-billeted at the Prison Officer's Club. Finally they had a room to themselves and eventually obtained a mattress.  Most internees suffered from malnutrition as a result of the poor diet and diseases like beri-beri and dysentery were common. 

The Prison Officer's Club, the IQ in the background and the Dutch Block to the left

A the end of the war, Marjorie was repatriated first. She recalled being taken on an aircraft carrier to Colombo and then by passenger ship to UK. Robert stayed on to help re-establish the prison and returned later to the UK. After repatriation leave they returned to Hong Kong and Robert resumed his career in the prison service, now called Correctional Services. 

They retired in the mid-1950s to Minster, near the sea, in the Isle of Sheppey. Robert died at the still young age of sixty-nine in 1974. Marjorie lived on for a further forty years, until 2014, when she died at the grand old age of 96. As far as I can tell she continued to live in Seaside Avenue with its bungalows and neat gardens. From her garden gate you can see the sea. How the medals ended up at Whitethorn Gardens is still a mystery. Perhaps given to someone by Marjorie. The important thing is that the medals have been found and identified. They tell the story of one man's service in the Royal Navy, his career as a prison officer in Hong Kong, his marriage to Marjorie, the close quarter fighting during the battle for Hong Kong and the hardship they both endured during internment; and then finally a peaceful retirement near the sea at Minster where they could reflect with equanimity on days gone by.


Peter West

Peter Weedon

Eastchurch Aviation Museum

Imperial War Museum (Sound Tape No. 4653). Available on the IWM web site


  1. Wondering if my uncle Thomas Hamill Royal Scots who was taken prisoner and died via Lisbon Maru might have had a medal.?

    1. I think he would have had the same four medals as in my pic (just not the last one which was a HKVDC medal). I believe if medals are lost you can apply to MOD for replacement but I'm afraid I am not an expert on medals

  2. Veronica Heywood29 March 2023 at 01:19

    A very moving account, congratulations on the excellent research! Eileen Straker, a friend of my mother, at the same time that Mummy heard that my father Graham S.P. Heywood was alive but a POW in Shum Shui Po, received the shocking report that her husband had been killed while defending Stanley.

    1. Thanks Veronica - so kind of you to say that. I looked for Straker in war dead but could not find him (was it under a different name?)

  3. Another superbly researched story, Philip.

  4. This was so interesting to me. Marjorie or Betty as she was known to me was my godmother. I spent many summer holidays at her bungalow. My father James Stuart sometimes referred to as Bang also worked at the prison and was l think Robert’s boss. My mother Edith Johnston was also in camp at Stanley and they married just after the war.
    If you have any information on my parents l’d be very interested.

    1. I do have some information about your parents. Please email me on so that I have your email address and I will forward what I have on file notes. Thanks. Philip

  5. I was interested in this article as the names Bob and Betty Grindley jumped out at me as my late husband was Dr Bill Hackett mentioned in this article who spoke frequently of them. Bill worked at Tweed Hospital and lived at the Doctors’ house that was bombed on Christmas Day. At that time he was married to Kitty and their had two boys Kevin and Conor who was born in the camp. Bill died in 1979

    1. Hi Carolyn: Thanks for your response. I mention Dr Hackett several times in my book "The Occupation of Hong Kong 1941-45". I am in periodic contact with Conner and I met him on one or two of his visits to HK.