Saturday 13 April 2024

HMS Marlborough (1855 - 1924)

I was captivated when I first saw this photograph of HMS Marlborough at Grand Harbour, Valletta, Malta. The two Victorian-era warships  dominate the image set against the grandeur of the appropriately named harbour. HMS Marlborough lies at anchor and displays to us her full broadside. The photograph was take in the early 1860s and is incredibly clear for such an early photograph depicting the days of the sailing navy.  She was a First Rate battleship carrying 131 guns on three gun decks. Certainly a ship that projected power and one not to be messsed with! She was flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet

HMS Marlborough at Malta c. 1862 (Wikipedia)

Take a closer look and we noice a funnel. There's a sort of end of an era feel about this hybrid. She had a propellor, boiler and coal-fired steam engine as well as full masts and rigging. She was predominantly wooden. It was a time when sail and steam co-existed but the future was metal and steam.  One is minded of that Turner painting of the aged HMS Temeraire, a veteran of Trafalgar, being towed by a steam tug to the breakers yard in 1838. The fighting Temeraire was a 98-gun ship of the line. 

Marlbough was launched in July 1855. She was ordered as a sailing ship in 1850 but in 1852 was ordered to be converted into a steam and sail warship. Under steam she could sail at a speed of nearly twelve knots irrespective of wind direction. She was the flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet from 1858 to 1864.  She was replaced by HMS Victoria and sailed to Portsmouth where she acted as a training ship and later a receiving ship. In 1904 she became an accommodation hulk with HMS Ariadne and HMS Acteon for the Torpedo Training School know as HMS Vernon at Portsmouth.  In 1923 HMS Vernon became a shore establishment and the former HMS Marlborough which had been renamed Vernon II was sold for scrapping in 1924. While being towed to the breakers yard she capsized in heave seas and sunk with the loss of four lives. 

The photograph below shows the old Marlborough then known as Vernon II hulked and used as an accommodation ship. Not as imposing as she was when serving with the Medierranean fleet and lying at anchor at Valletta but even as a hulk stripped of her mast and rigging and with the cluttered add-ons to her main deck - she still looks impressive. She still carries her head high and she avoided that final igmony of being broken up and instead found her own resting place in the English Channel. 

Former HMS Marlborough (Vernon II) www.vernon link

Accommodation hulks: the former HMS Marlborough, Warrior and Donegal (Photo wwwVernon Link)


Thursday 15 February 2024

Major Arthur Dewar, RASC

Arthur John Dewar was born 3 August 1907 to Robert and Lily Dewar in Belgaum, India. He was an Australian who served in the British Army as an officer in the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC). He fought galllantly in the Battle for Hong Kong and in 1946 this was recognised by the award of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for gallantry in combat. He was one of six recipients of the DSO awarded during the Battle for Hong Kong.  The others five awards were granted to the following senior officers. 

Major Bishop, Royal Rifles of Canada

Major Hodkinson, Winnipeg Grenadiers

Lt Colonel Stewart, Middlesex Regiment

Major Stewart, HKVDC

Major Templer, Royal Artillery

The DSO ranks below the Victoria Cross and above the Military Cross. It is generally only awarded to senior officers in the rank of Major or above and only for gallantry in action.  Dewar was a Temporary Major during the battle albeit his substantive rank was Captain. The citation for his award mentions conspicuous and consistent gallantry.

Arthur Dewar, apparently known as "Dumpy Dewar" according to Captain Wiseman, RASC, was a career officer who served in the Regular Army before and after the war. He was first commissioned into the Australian Army Service Corps and later transferred to the RASC.  A shipping manifest dated March 1932 records his arrival in London on the SS Narkunda, aged 24 to take up his role with the RASC. He was travelling from Fremantle, Western Australia and bound for the RASC Depot in the Army garrison town of  Aldershot. He was later  seconded to the Sudan Defence Force. He served much of his time in Equatoria, South Sudan. After a period serving in UK he was transferred to Hong Kong in 1940. Captain Wiseman recalled that he lived in the Hongkong Club and was reputed to play bridge every night and supplement his Army salary with his winnings. 

A passenger record dated August 1955 records him returning to Australia from the UK. Possibly following retirement from the Army. By this tine he was a Lieutenant Colonel with a distinguished war record. He was travelling with his wife Lois Alice on the SS Himalaya. He gives his permanent intended place of residence as Australia and his last place of residence as England. He retired to Swambourne a seaside suburb of Perth, Western Australia.  He passed away at the early age of 59 in January 1967. 

He is particulary well known for holding out at the Little Hong Kong ordnance magazines at Shouson Hill and in so doing became the last organized unit to accede to the surrender of British and Allied forces in Hong Kong. 

 Captain (Temporary Major) Arthur Dewar (Source: n/k)

On Monday 8 December 1941 at 0800 hours while crossing from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island he witnessed the first air raid on Kai Tak and Sham Shui Po barracks which for many people in Hong Kong was the first indication that war had begun, although a state of emergency had been declared the previous day. Major Dewar was on his way to the RASC boats camber adjacent to the RN Dockyard. He was the officer in charge of the flotilla of War Department Vessels consisting of lighters and launches. These vessels included WDV French, shown in the drawing below, and WDV Oudenarde and WDV Victoria. They flew the Blue Ensign with a crossed swords emblem.  They were the Army's maritime transport and entirely separate from the Royal Navy.

WDV French  (Source: Recollections of a British Prisoner of War by Bill Wiseman) 

Captain Bill Wiseman, RASC, described the role of the Army's Water Transport as follows:

1. A cross harbour ferry service  between SSP Barracks, Stonecutters Island and Tsim Tsa Shui and the RASC Camber.

2. An embarkation and disembarkation facility for service personnel.

3. A lighter service for loading and unloading service stores and ammunition.

4. Fast-going sea launches for towing targets for the 9.2-inch and 6-inch coastal defence batteries

5. For the movement of guns and mules as required. 

Captain Wiseman describes the vessels as falling into three categories:

Harbour launches:  Victoria, Malplaquet, Oudenarde.

Fast Motor Launches: French, Widgeon.

Lighters: Various, with some having ramps down to their holds for transporting mules. The crews were made up of mainly Chinese personnel. 

Dewar describes how two of the RASC lighters were converted to mule lighters presumably by the addition of ramps. This being in anticipation that the mules would at some point need to be brought over from the Mainland to Hong Kong Island.

On Monday 8 December and Tuesday 9 December Ordnance and NAAFI stores were moved to new and less exposed locations on the southside of the Island. 

On Thursday 11 December Dewar was advised that Withdrawal from the Mainland (WM Plan) was being put into operation. The WM Plan entailed the withdrawal of all troops and equipment from the Mainland to Hong Kong Island. The two mule lighters were towed initially to Holt's Wharf. One was later dispatched to the RN Camber in Kowloon and towed by WDV Oudenarde. The lighter returned to Hong Kong Island under Japanese shellfire with some 50 mules collected from Whitfield Barracks. Dewar describesd how the RN Dockyard, the RASC Camber amd the Ordnance Depot on the north shore of the Island were under increasing bombardment. Nevertheless the mules were disembarked without loss. One RASC officer, 2/Lt Keller, RIASC, was slightly wounded in both legs when the Motor Transport (MT) stores building was hit by artillery fire as he was passing. He was sent to the Military Hospital on Bowen Road. 

The RASC Camber was evacuated with the personnel sent to the RASC depot at the golf course at Deepwater Bay. Dewar proceeded to Lye Mun continuing to take charge of the Army Water Transport vessels. The 2nd Battalion Royal Scots were brought over to the Island that evening (Thursday 11 December) and likewise the howitzers, Bren Gun carriers and artillery. The two Indian Army battalions commenced their withdrawal towards Devil's Peak. WDV French was sent to pick up soldiers from the  Royal Artillery Observation Posts near Clearwater Bay.  Dewar spent the night 11 of December at Lye Mun. On Friday 12 December he was advised that the Punjab Battalion occupying the centre of the Gin Drinkers Line (GDL) were to be evacuated that night together with mules from the pier at Devil's Peak Peninsula. A decision was taken later that all troops including the Rajput Battalion and their supporting artillery would be evacuated during the night of 12 December. WDV Victoria was brought over to Lye Mun from Taikoo Docls by Dewar with the assistance of personnel seconded by the Navy to act as  coxswains, engine room artificers and deckhands, many of the Chinese crews having deserted. An American civilian, Doctor Frank Molthen, the owner of a private motor boat volunteered to assist in the evacuation of troops and equipment. The evacuation of the three inantry battalions with their supporting artillery, armoured cars and bren gun carriers was completed in a mini-Dunkirk style opperation. The task was initially carried out by the War Department vesssels, but they were later joined by the Royal Navy using the sole remaining destroyer, HMS Thracian, and four of their eight motor torpedoe boats. The MTBs were used to ferry troops from the pier to the destroyer. The final crossings were made on Saturday morning, 13 December, in broad daylight. They were vulnerable to air attack but fortunately Japanese aircraft did not appear that morning. Much of the evacuation was carried out at night without lights. The evacuation was a remarkable success due to good planning, good command and control and to some extent good fortune.  Nearly all the military personnel were successfully evacuated and the only failure was the inability to bring the mules across because of damage to the mule-lighter.

After the evaciation, Dewar was posted to Shouson Hill in command of 12 Coy RASC. On 19 December, following the Japanese landings on the Island and their capture of Wong Nai Chung (WNC) Gap, orders were given for the RASC to evacuate the work shops at Shouson Hill and the depots at Brick Hill and Deep Water Bay. The RASC personnel were ordered to relocate to Dairy Farm on Victoria Road and await orders. They were then instructed to form a composite company under the command of Lt-Col Frederick, RASC. The composite company consisted of RASC, RAOC, Royal Engineers, Royal Navy, Hong Kong Police and RAF. Dewar was part of this composite company of miscellaneous military personnel who were ordered to form a defensive line along a catch-water near Bennett's Hill. In the evening at about 1800 hours they received orders to abandon the line at Bennett's Hill and to capture Wong Nai Chung (WNC) Gap which had been largely captured by the Japanese earlier that morning on 19 December.  Transport was arranged to take the composite company as far up Repulse Bay Road as possible. Movement began at 20000 hours. They could not get to WNC Gap which was covered by Japanese machine guns so they stopped at the Ridge slightly lower down Repulse Bay Road. The plan was for an attack on WNC Gap to commence at dawn on 20 December. However, at 2300 hours plans changed again and Fredericks was ordered to leave the Ridge and to reoccupy Shouson Hill the following morning. However that morning, 20 December, the Japanese had proceeded down Middle Spur and seized the critical road junction at Repulse Bay Road/Island Road. Lt-Col Frederick's party consisting of a walking group and a motor transport group moved straight into a Japanese ambush at the road junction. Casualties were incurred and the rest of the column withdrew back to the Ridge. 

Major Dewar saw the lorries and marching group returning up Repulse Bay Road. He was briefed about the ambush by Major Flippance, RASC. Dewar asked Flippance to report the situation to Lt-Col Frederick at the Ridge. Meanwhile Dewar decided to continue down Repulse Bay Road to collect and assist any stragglers. He met Sgt Shiel, RASC, and ascertained from him that few if any were left behind.  While they were talking at the roadside they spotted a Japanese patrol working their way up the road towards them. They took cover and allowed the Japanese to come closer before opening fire at a range of 80 to 100 yards. Dewar described in his war diary how four were definitely killed and another four to eight were either killed our wounded. The Japanese then started to reinforce their forward troops on the road and at the same time tried to outflank Dewar and Shiel by working their way up the hillside above the road. It was time to withdraw and avoid entrapment. Rather than proceedinng up the road and back to the Ridge they went down the steep hillside below the road. They reached the golf course at Deep Water Bay and made their way along the perimeter towards Shouson Hill. They noticed the Japanese flag flying from the old AA fort and made their way to the Food Store on Island Road.

At the Food Store they came across a naval party of some twenty men made up from HMS Tern's ship's company and under the command of Lt Gerald Horey, RNVR. Dewar and Shiel joined up with this group and Dewar as the senior officer assumed command. Dewar and Horey reported to Major Marsh, 1/Mx, at his Coy HQ at Shouson Hill. Marsh asked them to garrison House No. 23 in order to protect his exposed flank and to prevent snipers getting into the nearby houses that overlooked Marsh's HQ. They were also ordered to help keep the road clear leading from Aberdeen to Little Hong Kong magazines. Dewar notified Lt-Col Andrews-Levinge, his commanding officer, of their situation. House No. 23 where Dewar established his HQ was in fact Andrews-Levinge's pre-war home.  His wife, Ida, was one of the European nurses working at St Stephen's College Temporary Hospital at Stanley. She was fortunate to have survived the masacre of wounded patients, orderlies and medical personnel. The house provided line of sight on the old AA fort which had been occupied by Japanese troops. Sniper fire was periodically exchanged. Major Marsh issued the RN party with army uniforms to replace their more conspicuous blue naval uniforms. Marsh also provided the naval party under Dewar with LMGs and a Vickers gun and sent two 1/Mx machine gunners to bolster their group.

On Sunday 21 December, an attack was carried out by a combined naval and army party on the AA Fort. The attack was led by Lt-Col Kidd, commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion of the 14th Punjab Regiment. The attack was unsuccessful and a number of casualties were incurred including Lt-Col Kidd was killedduring the attack. Dewar saw the assualt party passing No. 23. He described how the attack disintegrated after Lt-Col Kidd was killed. He obtained a further four RN ratings from the attacking party after it had broken up. The old AA fort was shelled by howitzers but the Japanese still had control of this prominent hill feature which commanded Island Road, the route to Deep Water Bay and Repulse Bay. The Japanese continued to snipe at Dewar's party in No. 23. Dewar noticed Japanese troops on the southern slopes of Mt Nicholson and Mt Cameron moving from east to west.  He directed fire using rifles and Bren Guns. The Vickers Gun supplied by Major Marsh was not functioning due to a missing lock. Early the next morning, Monday 22 December, they were subjected to sniper fire from the disused AA fort. Fire was laid down on Japanese positions on Mt Cameron and Mt Nicholson using the Bren Guns and the Vickers Gun (a new lock having been found). They were joined by Lt-Cdr Binney, another straggler from Kidd's asault party.

On Tuesday 23 December, Dewar's party continued to be sniped at from the AA fort.  Howitzer fire was again directed at the Japanese positions at the AA fort. On this day, they were joined by two more naval personnel, Lt Mitchell and Sub-Lt Rose, also stragglers from Lt-Col Kidd's group. They had become separated from the main party and had spent two days evading Japanese patrols. Major Dewar was praised for observing and directing artillery fire from the 9.2-inch guns at Stanley at Japanese positions on Cameron and Nicholson. They estimated the Japanese in this area of Cameron and Nicholson numbered one thousand - equivalent to a full Japanese infantry battalion. During the day the Japanese were closing in on House No 23 and Major Marsh's HQ. 

On 24 March the defenders at Shouson Hill were subjected to heavy mortar fire. This continued from 0900 to 1030 hours when the firing moved to Bennett's Hill and Aberdeen. Two mortar shells hit House No 23 causing two casualties who were evacuated by car to the hospital at the Aberdeen naval base. Marsh ordered Lt Hanlon, RAOC, and his Ordnance group to evacuate the magazines at Little Hong Kong. However on reporting this to China Command they were told that a further convoy was scheduled to pick up ammunition from the magazines that evening. Marsh ordered Hanlon to re-open the magaznes and Dewar's group were ordered to reinforce the ordnance group at the magazines and provide local defence. The ammunition convoy arrived at 2200 hours. The next day, Christmas Day, Hong Kong surrendered. 

Lt Lewis Bush, HKRNVR, a Japanese speaking British naval officer was asked to go to Government House with Lt Suzuki to facilitate an interview between Major-General Maltby, the Army commander, and a Japanese Colonel. Maltby asked about the mixed army and naval group manning the magazines at Little Hong Kong as there had been no word as to their fate. According to Lt Bush, Suzuki knew about them and replied that they were still holding out and had fired at Japanese troops whenever they approached and that they had rigged the magazines with explosives. Bush went to the magazines with Suzuki and informed them that Major-General Maltby had ordered a cease-fire and assured the defenders that they would be given safe conduct by the Japanese. Bush writing in The Road to Inamura (1972) writes that he was warned that he may have difficulty because the officer in charge was a particularly stubborn Australian who might choose to blow up the thousads of tons of ammunition rather than surrender. After Bush's intervention the men came out and surrendered the magazines. The Japanse were relieved. The prisoners were taken to Aberdeen and given a slap-up meal and provided with whisky and beer. Their Japanese captors were impressed that they were willing to blow themselves up with the ammunition rather than surrender. This group commanded by Major Dewar were the last organised group to surrender in the Battle for Hong Kong.

Little Hong Kong Magazines circa 1941

 One of the surviving magazines at Little Hong Kong (January 2024)

Information board at Little Hong Kong 


War Diary of Major A J Dewar (Appendix 'D' of RASC War Diarry) held at UKNA WO 172/1694A

Recollections of a British Prisoner of War (2001)  Captain E. P. (Bill) Wiseman.

Battle for Hong Kong (2019) Philip Cracknell

The Road to Inamura (1972) Lewis Bush

Thursday 12 October 2023

The tragic loss of the submarine HMS Thetis

The submarine HMS Thetis was built by Cammell Laird at Birkenhead. She was laid down in December 1936 and launched in June 1938. A year later, in June 1939, three months before war began, she sank during sea trials in Liverpool Bay with ninety-nine fatalities. She was salvaged, repaired and renamed HMS Thunderbolt and commissioned in October 1940. She entered war service with considerable success but was sunk, for the second  time, in March 1943 with the loss of all hands. 

The accidental sinking of HMS Thetis in 1939 was, and remains, the worst peacetime loss of a submarine in British naval history. Thetis was carrying it's naval crew, other naval officials and a number of Cammell Laird personnel. The submarine carried a total of 103 men on that fateful day and only four survived. The submarine had an estimated thirty-six hours of breathable air but this was reduced by a half because of the number of personnel onboard - double its normal complement. The sinking was not without it's share of controversy. Did the Admiralty do all that they could to save the crew and official passengers as opposed to just saving the submarine? Why did she sink and why did so few survive?


HMS Thetis beached on Anglesea after salvage (Photo Source: Facebook)

The 'T' Class Submarines

Thetis was a T-class submarine and one of the first of the class to be built. Fifty-three of these diesel-electric submarines were built before and during the Second World War. They were designed to replace the older 'O', 'P' and 'R' class of submarines.  They had a surface displacement of 1,290 tons, a length of just over 276 feet and a beam of just over 25 feet. Their top speed was 15.5 knots while surfaced and 9 knots when submerged. They carried a normal complement of 48 to 53 men. They carried sixteen torpedoes which could be fired through six forward torpedo tubes. In addition, they were equipped with a 4-inch quick firing deck gun. 

The Accident

On 1 June, 1939, the submarine, commanded by Lt Commander Guy ('Sam') Bolus, was undertaking sea trials in the Irish Sea before final acceptance procedures. Thetis was accompanied by the tug Grebe Cock. The tug's skipper was Alfred Godfrey. The tug was to standby and render any assistance necessary. On board the tug were two RN personnel, Lt Coltart and Leading Tel Crosby. At 1340, Lt Commander Bolus sent a signal to HMS Dolphin, the headquarters of the submarine service at Gosport. The signal gave his position in latitude and longitude and advised that he was about to dive the submarine. He used a megaphone to advise the skipper and the two naval men on the tug that they were about to dive. Some of the passengers and officials may have normally been expected to  transfer to the attending tug. However, nobody left the submarine because they all wanted to experience the dive. Lt-Commander Bolus must have assented but this meant he had double the normal complement and they were operating in a confined space. 

Thetis prepared to dive, her tanks were flooded, but she was not diving bow-first and was submerging very slowly. Something was wrong. Checks were carried out including checks to the torpedo tubes. The accident occurred when the inner door on one of the torpedo tubes was opened while the outer one was also open. The sea came rushing in and the forward two compartments were flooded. The weight of water in the forward compartments caused the boat to go into a steep dive in shallow water hitting the soft muddy seabed nose-first. They were unable to blow the main tanks and resurface. The sinking occurred at around 1500 hours. 

The men on the tug realised something was wrong because she was meant to have settled at periscope depth and released smoke flares. The tug failed to anchor at the point where the submarine sank and drifted some four miles from the stricken submarine. Some reports suggest it was too deep for the tug to anchor. The water had a depth of 150 feet at this location, whereas the submarine was more than 270 feet long. It was relatively shallow water. The submarine was unable to send radio messages whilst submerged. Accordingly Lt Coltart on the tug sent a message on the radio but because of the short range of the ship-to-shore radio it had to be relayed through a telegraph office ashore. The message did not reach HMS Dolphin until 1815 hours. A search was put into effect. The destroyer HMS Brazen was nearest and was one of the first ships on the scene.

The inner torpedo tube door had been opened by Lt Frederick Woods, the torpedo officer. A test cock on the inner torpedo tube doors should have alerted him to the presence of water in the tube, but the test cocks were not functioning properly as the test cock apertures had been painted over and blocked by dried paint. When opening the cock only a trickle of water came out and so Woods thought it was safe to open the torpedo tube door. As the water gushed in, Woods and another crew member attempted to shut the door but they were unable to close it against the torrent of water. The most forward watertight compartment was evacuated but the bulkhead door could not be closed and as a result both the forward two watertight compartments were flooded causing the submarine to sink bow-first.

It soon became evident that the crew and passengers may have to escape from the submarine by way of one of two emergency escape hatches. The next morning some of the fuel and the fresh water was pumped out in the hope of getting the boat to rise. However, only the stern lifted with part of the stern section sticking out above the surface level. After dawn, the rear section of the submarine was spotted in the daylight and the rescue vessels converged on the location. 

Two of the naval officers, Captain Harry Oram, not part of the crew, and Lieutenant Frederick Woods, the torpedo officer, were able to escape and reach the surface. They were picked up by boats from HMS Brazen which had just located the stricken submarine. Captain Oram was commander of the 5th Submarine Flotilla which Thetis would have joined. He and Woods volunteered to try and escape through the hatch. It was a dangerous task and few of the crew let alone the passengers had experience of using the Davis Submerged Escape Apparatus. This consisted of a nose clip, goggles and an oxygen breathing facility. The men would then enter the escape hatch, seal the door to the submarine, flood the escape chamber, and finally open the door in the hull and then ascend to the surface. Lt Cdr Bolus then ordered a second escape with four men. The more men that could escape the longer the breathable air would last. One of the four men is said to have panicked and opened the outer door too early and had damaged the hatch door. They were dragged out but three of them had drowned. A further escape effort was made by Leading Stoker Walter Arnold and Frank Shaw, a civilian, from Cammell Laird. They successfully escaped and were the last to do so. It is thought a further escape was made but something went wrong resulting in flooding. Th is caused the submarine to sink to the seabed snapping the hawsers that had been tied to the exposed stern. Only the four men referred to managed to escape from the submarine. The rest, ninety-nine men, died from carbon dioxide poisoning or drowning. Those who lost their lives included fifty-one crew members,  twenty-six Cammell Laird staff, seven officials from the Admiralty, four from Vickers-Armstrong, two caterers and a Mersey harbour pilot.

HMS Thunderbolt

After HMS Thetis had been salvaged and repaired and after completing sea trials she was commissioned in 1940 as HMS Thunderbolt under the command of Lt-Cdr Crouch. Lt Stevens was apppointed First Lieutenant. She saw service in the Atlantic and in December 1940 sank the Italian submarine Capitano Tarantini.  In 1942, she was equipped with two 'chariots'. These were manned torpedoes for use against enemy ships in harbour. She and her sister submarine, HMS Trooper, wee dispatched to the Mediterranean. Their first mission was unsuccessful and Trooper was  sunk. A further operation took place at Palermo in January 1943. Thunderbolt's chariots sunk an Italian light cruiser and a freighter. However, two months later, in March 1943, Thunderbolt was depth-charged by the Italian corvette Cicogna. She sank - there were no survivors.

HMS Thunderbolt (ex-Thetis)

HMS Thunderbolt returning from a successful war patrol 


It was a shocking tragedy, with great loss of life that occurred in the few months before the outbreak of the Second World War. There was controversy and there were suggestions of a cover up or a white-wash by the Admiralty. There were questions raised as to why the exposed rear section could not have been cut open in the period while the rear section was above the surface and before the submarine finally sank. Some felt that the Admiralty was reluctant to damage the hull in this way because they wanted to salvage the submarine - even at the risk to the lives of the men trapped aboard. War was looming and the Royal Navy needed more submarines. There were questions raised as to why it took so long to find the sunken submarine and as to why the hawsers around the after section had been insufficient to prevent the submarine from sinking to the seabed. 

The remains of the ninety-nine men who lost their lives were extracted from the salvaged submarine and buried at Hollyhead on the Island of Anglesea.  

Further Reading

HMS Thetis Secrets & Scandal (1999) David Roberts

Thetis Down - The Slow Death of a Submarine (2008) Tony Booth

Thetis Submarine Disaster (2014) David Paul 

Thetis - The Admiralty Regrets (2018) C. Warren & J Benson

Sunday 9 July 2023

Lt Ralph Shrigley, HKVDC, who took his own life while under interrogation and torture

Ralph James Shrigley was born in Scotland in 1898. During the First World War, he served with the 2nd Bn Royal Scots Fusiliers. He must have been wounded in action because his army service records indicate "GSW" or gun shot wound (to abdomen). He was discharged from the army in January 1919 a couple of months after the war ended. I believe he enlisted in 1917. As a matter of interest, Winston Churchill also served with the Royal Scots Fusiliers.

Ralph Shrigley (sourced from Facebook Battle of HK Page)

At the age of thirty, Ralph married Janette Agnes Whyte Howard (nee Brown) in Glasgow in 1928. Janette was known as "Nessie".  Her first name is variously spelt in documents as Jeanette or Janette. 

In October 1932, the couple are shown on the ship's manifest as passengers on the P&O liner Strathnaver. Their country of intended future residence was given as India and they disembarked at Bombay. I assume they worked in India for some years and at some point relocated to Hong Kong. Ralph was employed by Reiss Bradley. In 1936 Reiss Massey acquired Bradley & Co. These were two long established British trading companies focused on the UK-China trade. It was a well known corporation before the war. After the war they were acquired by Hutchison. 

Ralph and Janette were in Hong Kong when the Japanese invaded the territory when the Pacific War began in December 1941. Compulsory service was introduced in 1939 and Ralph Shrigley joined the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC). Perhaps in view of his previous war service he was commissioned and held the rank of Lieutenant at the outbreak of war. Assuming Janette was in Hong Kong in June 1940 she forewent the compulsory evacuation of British women and children. Nurses and government employees were amongst those that were exempted. Janette had enrolled as a nurse in the Auxiliary Nursing Service (ANS) who during war time were assigned to civilian hospitals rather than military hospitals. 

After the Christmas Day surrender, Ralph Shrigley was interned at Shamshuipo (SSP) POW camp and Janette was interned at Stanley Civilian Internment Camp. Ralph was later transferred to Argyle Street Camp in April 1942 when it became designated as an officers camp. Later he was moved back to SSP Camp.  Ralph and Janette were not to see each other again because Ralph took his own life while under interrogation by torture at Victoria Gaol in June 1944. 

Information on Ralph Shrigley is limited, for example what was his role with the HKVDC and what unit of the corps did he belong to. I suspect he served in Corps HQ in Garden Road. He is credited with burying the regimental colours of the HKVDC at the time of the surrender somewhere between  Corps HQ and HQ China Command (the Battle Box). These were not retrieved after the war as only Ralph Shrigley knew the exact whereabouts. What was left of them was reportedly discovered during construction of the US Consulate in the late 1950s. The colours had disintegrated and only the flag poles survived.

Some accounts suggest the Japanese tortured him to force him to reveal the location of the colours. Perhaps that is right but I think this is unlikely. The Japanese most probably had no idea that the Volunteer's colours had been buried. Furthermore in 1944 when Shrigley was killed, they probably had little interest in retrieving them. They had beaten the British, and occupied the territory and they were more likely to be interested in what he knew of escape plans or communication with outside agents. BQMS Charles Barman, RA, wrote in Resist to the End (2009) that 'Colonel Mitchell, HKVDC, and Lt Shrigley were taken out of SSP camp by the Japanese authorities on 20 June 1944.  Barman writes that they were returned in the evening.  He added that those that returned from interrogation came back in a very poor physical state, and that some of those taken out of camp did not return at all. 

At war crimes trials held after the war, in January 1947, Lai Chung-yiu gave testimony (1) to the court concerning the interrogation, torture and subsequent suicide of Lt Shrigley. Lai had been charged with espionage and was being held at Victoria Gaol. Lai had been forced to act as an interpreter translating  from English to Chinese during the interrogation. The Formosan interpreter presumably translated from Chinese to Japanese. Lai witnessed the interrogation of Lt Shrigley on two separate occasions. He also witnessed his death on 28 June 1944. The principal interrogator was a Japanese gendarme by the name of Ushigai. On the first occasion (20 June 1944) Lt Shrigley was subjected to the water torture and beatings with a leather strap. This went on all afternoon. Lai testified that he saw Shrigley a second time about a week later (28 June 1944).


Q. I want you to tell me what happened on this (second) occasion?

A. When the gendarme asked him (Lt Shrigley) questions he still refused to answer - then he was given the water torture again.

Q. How long did it last, this water torture?

A. That day, the whole morning.

Q. What was Shrigley's condition at the end of the interrogation?

A. Very weak

Q. Did you have any conversation with him ?

A. On the way to his cell

Q. What did he say?

A. He said he could not bear such torture, he would die.

Q. Did you see Shrigley again?

A. After that time, no, until he committed suicide and jumped down from the third floor of his cell (block).

Q. Tell me what you can of his suicide..........?

A. After this last interrogation he walked back to his cell, his condition was very poor, he could not walk very well.

Lai was asked when he committed suicide and replied 'on a Sunday morning'. However 28 June is reported as the date of death but that was a Wednesday. Lai mentioned that he committed suicide the morning after the last torture session. 

Q. Tell me what you know about that suicide the next morning.

A. That morning about 10 o'clock I heard the sound of a dull thud ......I then peeped out from my cell and I saw a man lying on the floor. The Formosan interpreter (who had assisted Ushigai in administering the water torture) came to my cell and opened my door and asked me to come out, then he told me to take a last statement from the deceased (Shrigley) but at that time Shrigley was unconscious. They then shifted his body to the open yard and asked Dr Ramler to save his life.

Doctor Siegfried Ramler was an un-interned third national who was later arrested by the Japanese and held at Victoria Gaol which was alongside the Central Police Station. He provided medical attention to both prisoners and gendarmes. He gave evidence at war crimes trials about the use of torture at Victoria Gaol. He stayed in Hong Kong after the war and became a popular and successful practitioner. Lai stated that Dr Ramler gave Lt Shrigley an injection but it was already too late. A Japanese doctor arrived later and officially declared Lt Shrigley to be dead. The Gendarmerie must have felt cheated - no longer able to extract information under torture. Lai states in his testimony that one of the gendarmes kicked the motionless body and said in Japanese bakayaro, a disparaging insult.

POW records (2) indicate he was buried at the POW cemetery alongside Argyle Street POW Camp. His remains were exhumed after the war and reburied at Stanley Military Cemetery in May 1947. 

It is not clear when Janette Shrigley, interned at Stanley Camp, first heard of her husband's death. She was billeted in Block 13, known as the Indian Quarters. The block still remains and is still used to house the families of prison officers (now called Correctional Services Staff). 

The Indian Quarters - Blocks 12- 18 (just after the war)

She shared a room (Room 87) with Alice Campbell, Clementine Cock and Dorothy Piercy. They were each married to members of the HKVDC who were held  in the military POW camps. The three other wives were more fortunate in that their husbands survived the battle and the subsequent incarceration. After the Japanese capitulation, Janet was repatriated on the Empress of Australia and arrived at Liverpool in October 1945. She passed away in Scotland in July 1977 aged 79. 

I went down to Stanley Military Cemetery one summer afternoon to take a photo of his grave and to remember him and what he endured. He suffered so much from the torture and beating that he would rather die than live. He cheated his interrogators and as far as we know he did not talk. Whatever secrets they were after - he took to his untimely grave. His grave lies well tended in the peaceful cemetery so well maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Janette's message inscribed on the memorial stone bears the poignant message:

In remembrance

of my dear husband

so sadly missed


(1)    UK National Archives File No WO 235/999

(2)    Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Tuesday 18 April 2023

Henry Jemson Tebbutt

I first saw the name Henry Tebbutt in the The Hidden Years (1967) by John Luff.  One of the houses on Repulse Bay Road is captured in a sketch map on page 98 of this book and is described as Tebbutt's House. In those pre-war days, as depicted in the sketch map houses were often known by their owner's name. In the map we see Danby's House and Compton's House. Two of the villas, Altamira and Holmesdale are still extant, although now respectively referred to as Estrellita and No 4 Repulse Bay Road. Beautiful pre-war villas like Postbridge and Twin Brooks have been replaced by high-rise apartment blocks but some still retain the old names of the villa that once stood on the plot. As for Tebbutt's house, it was close to the road junction at Repulse Bay Road/Island Road. It may have been near the site of present day Pine Crest or Manhattan Tower. Here's the sketch map from that classic book on the  Battle of Hong Kong. 

Repulse Bay Road (Source: The Hidden Years (1967) by John Luff

Henry Jemson Tebbutt was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on 4 July 1893. During the First World War, he served in the British infantry and was commissioned as a lieutenant in 1917 in the Royal Fusiliers. At some point he qualified as an architect in UK. There is a record of him sailing from UK to Shanghai on the SS  Somali. Another shipping record shows him travelling from UK and bound for Hong Kong in October 1925 aboard the SS City of Cairo. This ship that carried him to Hong Kong was torpedoed and sunk in the South Atlantic in November 1942. At the time, the ship was carrying nearly 300 passengers and crew including a number of  women and children. The survivors took to the overcrowded life boats. They were nearly 2,000 miles from Brazil and 500 miles from the nearest land - the Island of St Helena. The German commander of the U-boat surfaced and gave the survivors a course to steer and before departing, he said "Goodnight and sorry for sinking you" ................but that is another story and the subject of a book by Ralph Barker.

In Hong Kong he was employed firstly by the well known Hong Kong architect firm Palmer & Turner and later by Davies, Brook & Gran a Shanghai based firm of architects. He married Elizabeth (Betty) Ada Hindmarsh in November 1932 at Muswell Hill in North London. She was, 22 years old,  seventeen years his junior. They returned together to Hong Kong.

He joined the HKVDC in the rank of lieutenant based on his wartime service in the First World War.  Betty joined the Nursing Detachment of the HKVDC and served as a volunteer military nurse during the battle. She may have served at both the Military Hospital at Bowen Road and the Temporary Military Hospital at St Albert's, Rosary Hill. After the battle she was interned at Stanley Camp. She was billeted in Block A3 which was part of the American Quarters and would have moved there after the Americans were repatriated in July 1942.  She shared a room with Philip and Joan Witham and their infant child and another married couple John and Emile Richardson. Henry Tebbutt was incarcerated at SSP Camp.

Tebbutt's POW Card from SSP Camp ( 

The POW card shows 'next of kin' as Mrs E. A. Tebbutt and gives an address as c/o St Albert's Hospital, Rosary Hill. After liberation Henry Tebbutt was repatriated to UK on the SS Highland Monarch which docked at Southampton in November 1945. Shipping records on show him returning to Hong Kong alone in 1946 on the SS Otranto with a number of other returnees. The marriage seems not to have survived their respective internment in Japanese prison camps. Betty appears to have remarried after the war to Richard McCaffery an American working for the Foreign Service. They moved to Malaga in the South of Spain. She died there in 1984 and he (McCaffery) in 1988. They were buried at the English Cemetery in Malaga. There were no known children in either Betty's first or second marriage. 

There is little information about the Tebbutt family, no photographs, no detailed record of service in the HKVDC, just a few miscellaneous records and passenger manifests and a sketch map and what first caught my attention..........a house called Tebbutt's House on Repulse Bay Road.  



Desmond Hindmarsh:

Betty Tebbutt's brother Desmond Ernest Hindmarsh was also in Hong Kong before and during the war. He served in the HKRNVR. He was the commanding officer of HMS Indira (an auxiliary patrol vessel).  It is possible that  Henry Tebbutt met Betty in Hong Kong although marrying in North London. Desmond Hindmarsh died in Hong Kong in 1951. 

Tebbutt was incarcerated in the following prison camps:

North Point  29 Dec  1941 to 23 Jan 1942

Sham Shui Po 23 Jan 1942 to 18 April 1942

Argyle Street 18 April 1942 to 4 May 1944

Sham Shui Po 4 May 1944 to 4 Sept 1945

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

Sunday 12 March 2023

The Surrender at Singapore

The former Ford Motor Factory at Bukit Timah was the location for the ignominious surrender of British and Commonwealth troops on Sunday 15 February 1942. The British commander was Lt General Arthur Percival, General Officer Commanding (GOC) British troops in Malaya (which included Singapore). The Japanese 25th Army was led by Lt General Tomoyuki Yamashita who became known as the 'Tiger of Malaya'. The surrender was  ignominious because Percival surrendered an army consisting of some 85,000 British, Australian, Indian and Malay troops to a smaller Japanese army of  around 35,000 men. Yamashita's forces had out-manoeuvred and out-fought the British in Malaya. They had moved with great speed through the peninsula towards the all-important goal of Singapore. This was part of the grand plan of the Japanese high command to capture what they called the southern resources area which provided access to rubber, oil and other raw materials in the Dutch East Indies and Malaya. The Japanese army crossed the Johor Straits that separated Malaya from Singapore on 8 February and a week later they captured the bastion of British military strength in the Far East. Singapore had been seen as the 'Gibraltar of the East' impregnable fortress.

Winston Churchill described the defeat and subsequent capitulation as 'the worst disaster and the largest capitulation in British history'. One would have to go back to 1781, to the Battle of Yorktown in the American War of Independence or even to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 to find another such calamitous defeat. The loss of Singapore is sometimes described as a national disgrace and Percival is generally blamed by historians for lack of leadership, and for surrendering rather than fighting on. The British and Commonwealth soldiers that were subsequently incarcerated as POWs in South East Asia suffered terribly and many thousands died during their captivity in Japanese prison camps and labour camps. 

...............but has history been fair to Percival ? or could it be, at least in large part, that he was not given the tools to complete the task. The Japanese had both air and sea superiority. Percival had insufficient aircraft many of which were antiquated and obsolete like the Vickers Vildebeest and the Brewster Buffalo. Some Hawker Hurricanes arrived late in the battle but there were not enough. The Imperial War Museum describes how the Japanese had 600 aircraft and the British  had only 158. The Japanese had 200 tanks whereas the British had twenty-three. Percival had asked for more tanks but none were sent. They were needed elsewhere. He had the manpower but insufficient aircraft, warships and armour. The loss of the battleship, HMS Prince of Wales and the cruiser HMS Repulse was catastrophic. The two capital ships with their escorting destroyers had no air-cover because the aircraft carrier, HMS Indomitable, which should have been part of their task force (Force Z) had run aground in the Caribbean Sea. 

The Former Ford Motor Factory in March 2023

The Ford factory, built in art deco style, was completed and opened in October 1941 just weeks before the war started with Japan on 8 December.  The Japanese used the factory as Battle HQ during the fighting around Bukit Timah, a high point on the island.  Today the factory is a national monument and  home to an excellent museum. 

The factory as it looked at its opening in 1941

The surrender party arrives at the Ford Factory (above) artist rendition (below)

The four British officers were from left to right: Major Cyril Wild, interpreter, bearing the white flag, Deputy Adjutant General, Brigadier Thomas Newbigging, bearing the union flag, Brigadier Kenneth Torrance and Lt General Arthur Percival. The interpreter carrying the white flag (a task no-one wanted) is caught by a Japanese cine camera casting away the white flag with an air of disgust. Brigadier Newbigging appears to admonish him. The surrender formality took place at the factory.

Artist rendition of the surrender negotiation

Signing the surrender at the Ford Factory

Percival had expected an attack on the northeast shoreline rather than the more swampy northwest coast. He put the main component of his defence force in this sector. The Japanese carried out a decoy assault on the NE sector but their main force came ashore and quickly overwhelmed the defenders on the northwest shore. Percival was forced to withdraw his troops and form  a perimeter around the city. When the Japanese captured Bukit Timah, they secured possession of the reservoirs and the water supply. In fact, the Japanese did not turn off the water supply but water shortages were caused by numerous broken water mains resulting from the aerial bombing and artillery bombardment. The moral of some of the defenders was poor. They had been beaten and pushed back through Malaya to Singapore and now their backs were to the sea. The RAF had withdrawn to Sumatra and Java and the Royal Navy had lost its two main surface ships. The Japanese had achieved full control of the skies and the seas. The ammunition for the AA guns and the field guns was close to running out. Moreover the water supply was expected to extinguish within 24 hours. The victorious Japanese  army were at the gates to the city with its large civilian population. Churchill had ordered the Governor and Commander-in-Chief,  Sir Shenton Thomas, and by extension the army commander, Lt General Percival, to fight to the last man. However, Percival realised that there was no longer any useful military advantage to be gained by fighting on. In order to save lives, both civilian and combatants, the time had come to capitulate. He had sought permission from General Archibald Wavell to surrender when he felt the limits of military endurance had been reached. Wavell had encouraged Percival to fight on but on Sunday 15 February he sent a telegram which whilst still exhorting him to continue to resist it gave him the discretion to capitulate once the situation on the ground warranted it.

Ford Factory during the Japanese occupation

Lt General Arthur Percival 

H.E. The Governor Sir Shenton Thomas

Having received Wavell's assent giving Percival the discretion to cease fighting, Percival and his commanders and staff at the Battle Box made the painful decision to surrender the garrison. Percival explained that the choice was either to counter-attack Bukit Timah and recapture the water supplies and food depots - or to capitulate immediately. A successful counter-attack was not deemed feasible. It was clear that the battle had been lost - it boiled down as to whether to surrender now or surrender later.  Later that morning Brigadier Newbigging, a senior staff officer,  Major Cyril Wild as interpreter and Hugh Fraser,  the Colonial Secretary drove out along the Bukit Timah road to Japanese lines to negotiate terms. The Japanese gave the party a large Japanese flag with orders that the flag must be flown from the roof of the Cathay Building, the tallest building in Singapore. The flag should be displayed for at least ten minutes and would signify that Percival had agreed to meet Yamashita that evening at the Ford Factory. The British delegation then returned to Fort Canning with the Japanese demands. 

Percival and the surrender party, drove to the Japanese front line and were then conveyed to Yamashita's HQ at the Ford Factory. They were shown to a meeting room with a conference table. At around 6:45 pm Lt General Yamashita arrived with his staff officers. The Japanese general extended his hand to the British officers. Yamashita opened the negotiation by stating that the Imperial Japanese Army will consider nothing but unconditional surrender. Percival wanted more time to consider and suggested that they respond the following day. Yamashita in a raised voice insisted they accept unconditional surrender there and then and if not the firing would resume that evening. The Japanese General stated that they cannot accept any further British resistance. It must end now.  Percival asked Yamashita not to permit the Japanese Army to enter Singapore city until the following day. He would return to his HQ and give the orders to cease firing and disarm. Yamashita then told Percival that they would need to take into their custody the senior British officers and the Governor as a sign of good faith. Percival appeared shocked. Yamashita continued to berate Percival until at 7:40pm Percival assented to the Japanese demand for unconditional surrender.  He had little choice. He did not know that the Japanese army was smaller than his and that they were over-extended and at the end of their supply line. Had he fought on it would only have delayed the inevitable defeat which had effectively already occurred with the capture of most of Malaya and Singapore and Percival's army pushed back to a defensive ring around the city. It was agreed that the British forces would be notified of the capitulation and all firing would cease by 10 pm. The troops would disarm and a thousand would retain their arms to preserve law and order. Percival  asked only that the Japanese protect the British women, children and civilians caught up in the battle. Yamashita agreed and Percival signed the instrument of surrender.


Percival was imprisoned at Changi until August 1942 when with other senior officers he was moved to Japanese occupied Formosa an later to Manchuria. After release in 1945 he was invited to witness the Japanese surrender in the battleship USS Missouri. He was also invited to attend the surrender of Japanese forces in the Philippines led by Yamashita. Yamashita was tried and found guilty of war crimes. He was sentenced to death by hanging. Percival returned to UK and lived in Hertfordshire with his wife and two children.  He retired from the Army in 1946. He became Lord Lieutenant of the county in 1951. He was President of the Far East POW Association. He died aged seventy-eight in 1966.