Thursday, 3 January 2019

Escape from the Lisbon Maru

2/Lt Douglas Baird left his home in Valparaiso, Chile in June 1940 to travel to the mother country that he barely knew. Many other young men from the Anglo-Chileno community made that same journey responding to Britain's need, in a time of war, when Britain was facing the prospect of invasion and defeat. He joined the Royal Scots, and in June 1941 he was posted to Hong Kong as a subaltern to serve with the 2nd Battalion which had been in Hong Kong since 1938.
   On 8 December 1941, Japan invaded Hong Kong and more or less simultaneously attacked the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Malaya and Singapore. A few hours earlier Japanese forces had attacked the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour. During the brief but brutal battle for Hong Kong, Douglas Baird was in the thick of the action fighting on the Gin Drinkers Line, and at Wong Nai Chung Gap. He was wounded in action by machine gun fire with two bullets going through one of his legs below the knee. The main artery was severed, a tourniquet was applied and he was evacuated to Bowen Road Military Hospital. He recovered from his wounds, and in April 1942 he was released to Sham Shui Po POW Camp. He was later transferred to Argyle Street camp.  
   In September 1942, the Japanese started transferring POWs to Japan to work as forced labourers in mines, docks, factories and foundries. The first draft left in early September with some six-hundred POWs. Baird was assigned to the second draft on a freighter called the Lisbon Maru, together with 1,816 British POWs. Baird was still limping from the wound to his leg, but he was considered by the Japanese to be fit enough to form part of the draft. The draft was mainly comprised of officers and men from the Royal Navy (RN), Royal Artillery (RA), the Middlesex Regiment (1/Mx), Royal Engineers (RE), Royal Army Service Corps (RASC), Royal Corps of Signals (RCS), and the Royal Scots (2/RS). 
   The Lisbon Maru had been completed in 1920. She was a twin-screw steamship with a top speed of around 12 knots. She was armed with deck-mounted guns fore and aft. The POWs were crammed into three holds with four hatches. She was under the command of Captain Kyodo Shigeru.

Lisbon Maru (Wikipedia)
The No. 1 Hold, the foremost hold, contained approximately 300 POWs consisting mainly of RN, personnel. The naval draft in No. 1 Hold was under the command of Lt Joshua Pollock, RN ((Rtd). The No. 2 Hold was located immediately in front of the bridge superstructure. There were two hatches. This hold mainly consisted of the Royal Scots and the Middlesex drafts. Lt-Col Stewart, 1/Mx, was the senior officer. The No. 3 Hold was situated aft of the bridge structure. The hold was occupied by the Royal Artillery. The senior officer was Major William Pitt, RA.
   The after section, behind the superstructure, with three hatches, was used to accommodate some 778 Japanese troops returning to Japan. This area also housed the guard detail which consisted of twenty-five men commanded by Lt Hideo Wada. The holds occupied by the British prisoners of war had been fitted with wooden bunks, one atop the other, and ladders connecting one platform to another. A main wooden stairway with a low bannister connected the upper deck with the bottom of the hold. The Royal Scots were allocated to the lower level of the hold. The officers were allocated a platform immediately below the bridge structure. Each officer was allocated a 50-man working party made up from the other ranks.
   The holds were utterly crowded, and there was little space between the bunks. There were some electric light bulbs which gave a dim light. The toilets were on the upper deck consisting of a long bench or plank built over the ship's side. One plank for the thighs and another to support their backs. A precarious perch especially in rough seas. The freighter lay alongside the jetty at Kowloon Docks for five days before she finally sailed on 27 September 1942. Whilst alongside the jetty the heat in the hold was punishing. 2/Lt Geoffrey Hamilton, 2R/s, noted that about half the men were issued with kapok life belts.
   When the freighter eventually sailed from Hong Kong, the hold hatches were open, and a breeze gave some much-needed ventilation. POWs were allowed on deck, but only ten at a time, to use the latrines and toilets. There was a continuous queue of men up the staircase to use the toilets.  Many of the POWs were in no fit state to make the journey, and many were suffering from dysentery and some from diphtheria. Roll-calls were conducted twice a day by the officers for their respective work-parties. It was whilst Lt Baird was conducting a roll call for his work-party (No. 17 Group) at 0700 hours on 1 October 1942 that a torpedo hit the freighter. He recalled the incident in his diary which was edited by his daughter,  Catherine Baird Williams, under the title Dad's Story.
A terrific explosion shook the ship with such force that it nearly knocked me backwards off the banister. The ships engines immediately stopped and the electric light went out. For a few moments we did not realise what had happened but soon the Japanese on deck were rushing all over the place and the gun on the bow of the ship came into action. (Dad's Story)
Baird returned to the officer's platform where they could see the forward gun firing to starboard and swinging around to fire on the port side. During that first morning following the submarine attack, the POWs were no longer allowed on deck, and no food or water was provided. The torpedo had been fired from an American submarine, the USS Grouper. The submarine had no way of knowing that the freighter was carrying Allied POWs. There were no markings, and the vessel was clearly armed. The American submarine fired six torpedoes. One had reportedly been deflected from the hull of the freighter without exploding. It was the fourth torpedo that hit the stern, holed the hull, and disabled the vessel.
   The POWs were not allowed on deck to use the toilets. The buckets soon became full, and with many men suffering from dysentery, the stench and conditions in the holds deteriorated quickly. No food or water was passed to the prisoners. The Japanese were trying to effect repairs, and trying to tow the vessel, but to no avail. In the evening at about 1930 hours, the prisoners heard a ship coming alongside. The Japanese troops and their equipment were seen to be taken off the Lisbon Maru and transferred to the vessel that came alongside. After this, the Japanese sealed the hatch covers with planks and tarpaulins. As a result, the holds were left in pitch darkness without any ventilation. It was hot and difficult to breath. The ship was increasingly listing to port. Contact was made with the forward hold (No. 1 Hold)  and stern-most hold (No. 3 Hold) by tapping morse code messages on the bulkheads. They discovered that the other two holds had also had their hatches battened down. The rear hold had been put to work on the pumps, and they confirmed that the ship had been hit in the engine room.
   The following morning, 2 October, the vessel developed a heavy list to port. It became obvious to the prisoners in the holds that they were on a sinking ship which was taking in water and because of the list liable to roll over. There was nothing they could do. The Japanese had battened down the hatches initially to prevent any escape, but later to ensure that their wretched prisoners would go down with the ship in retribution for the attack. The Japanese were not interested in saving the prisoners - only in saving the ship. Lt-Col Stewart, 1/Mx, the senior British officer, was assisted by Lt Potter, St John Ambulance Brigade, who spoke some Japanese. He shouted up to the guards asking if they could remove the covers because of the poor air, the heat, and the desperate need for ventilation. The Japanese guards replied they would have to wait. With the ship on the verge of sinking, Lt-Col Stewart gave the word for Lt Hargreaves Howell, RASC, to force an exit using a butcher's knife that one of the POWs had somehow secreted aboard. He was able to remove some of the planks and to cut open the cover providing a gap sufficient for the men to get out. Lt Potter, Lt Howell and a group of soldiers got onto the upper deck, and although some were shot, they managed to overcome the remaining guards who were on the bridge structure. Lt Potter died from gunshot wounds.  2/Lt Hamilton was lightly wounded.

Attempting to tow the Lisbon Maru (Public Records Office)
As soon as the hatch covers had been cut open, the sea started to wash into the hold. There was a rush by the troops to get out of the hold before the ship sank. Baird described the pandemonium as panic took hold.
The gap was increased and men continued rushing out and being shot at from the bridge where the  sentries had gathered to prevent our escape. Soon the sentries were overpowered by our men. The men were scrambling up the stairway in mass disorder trying to reach the gap. The sight from our platform was unbelievable. The stairway was about three deep. Men climbing over others, stepping on their heads and shoulders in the panic to reach the main deck. All of a sudden the banister of the stairway gave way under the pressure of bodies, about a dozen men fell from the top of the ladder down to the bottom of the hold falling on the heads of those trying to reach the stairway. The sight of the bodies flying in mid-air was something never to be forgotten. (Dad's Story)
Those on deck opened the hatches of the other holds. The ship was by this stage already sinking, and water continued to flow into the holds. The vessel was going down stern-first whilst still listing to port. Baird with the other officers on their platform watched, but they were unable to do anything about the initial panic as the men surged up from the hold. The senior Royal Scots officer was forty-one-year-old Major Leighton Walker. He was an older man with greying hair, the son of a Church of England Minister.  He had been called up for service after having served in WW1. He was drowned after having given his lifebelt to another soldier who could not swim.
   The next most senior officer was twenty-four-year-old Captain Norman Cuthbertson, the battalion Adjutant. Douglas Baird recalled Cuthbertson going back into the hold, against the flow of men, and going down to the bottom of the hold which by then was knee-deep in water, and helping the wounded men who had fallen back into the hold. Baird recalled that RSM Goodfellow and Captain Cuthbertson managed to get most of the wounded men up on to the deck.  Lt-Col Stewart gave the order to abandon ship to those still remaining on the stricken vessel. Captain Cuthbertson was one of the last to leave Hold No. 2. He survived the sinking and the journey on another freighter to Japan, but in his weakened state he contracted diphtheria, and he never recovered. He died on 17 October 1942 at Kobe, still only twenty-four years old.
    The upper deck was awash, but Baird recalled that the fresh air, after the conditions in the hold, felt revitalising. It was a sunny and bright day, and he thought it was about 0900 hours. This was some twenty-four hours after the first torpedo had hit the freighter. He could see the stern was already under water and only the forward part of the ship from the bridge superstructure to the bows was above water.  On the port side, he could see a cluster of three small islands. These were the Sing Pang Islands in the Chusan Archipelago off the coast of Chekiang Province, near Shanghai. On the starboard side, there were three or four small Japanese escort vessels. In the sea around the sinking ship was a mass of heads bobbing in the water. Some of the men had lifebelts which had been stored in the holds. Douglas Baird had decided not to take one as he felt it would be easier to swim without the hindrance. Some of the men in the water were making for the Japanese vessels, but others were being carried by the current towards the cluster of islands. Baird thought the islands were too far away even for a strong swimmer and after entering the water, he struck out towards the Japanese escort vessels.
   However, as he neared the vessels, he realised they were not trying to rescue the survivors. Instead, they were shooting at them. Bullets pinged over his head. The Japanese were firing at the defenceless men in the water, perhaps because they had broken out of the holds and over-powered the guards.  They had intended to let the prisoners go down with the ship, and if they had not broken out, they all would have perished trapped in the holds.  Baird changed direction and started swimming towards the islands with bullets still whistling past his head. He had taken off his boots before abandoning ship and was clad only in a pair of shorts. He came across a line of flotsam from the wreck that the current was taking towards the cluster of islands. He was weak because they had had no food for more than 48 hours.
After my great effort to get away from the ships and out of the distance of the bullets I became absolutely exhausted and looked around for something to hang onto. By this time the Lisbon Maru had sunk completely leaving the tops of its masts above water. (Dad's Story)
He hung onto a floating plank but by midday the sun was scorching, and he was both exhausted and sunburnt. He saw a wooden box that resembled a kennel, floating amongst the debris and bodies. He tried to get inside which gave some shelter from the sun, but the 'kennel' kept flipping over. In the end, he went back to hanging on to a plank. The sea became increasing choppy, and the rough surface of the plank rubbed painfully against his skin causing his chest to bleed. The current was no longer taking him and the others towards the islands but instead, they were being taken out to the open sea. His throat was parched, thirsty, hungry and exhausted, his chest cut by the splintered wood was increasingly painful. By sunset, the islands that he had hoped to reach could no longer be seen.
Darkness set in and I felt it was useless to continue this suffering for heaven knows how long and then perishing at the end of it. ... I could not go through a whole night and then if still alive, face another day, so I decided to put an end to my suffering. I let go the plank and went under the water, swallowing all I could. I bobbed up again, and there was the same plank. I hung on again and vomited most of the water that I had swallowed. (Dad's Story)
He tried again and for a third time to drown himself. He swallowed the water into his lungs, but again he bobbed up and vomited the water from his stomach and coughed it from his lungs. He simply could not drown himself - maybe it was just not his time. He then noticed that at the end of the plank were two large nails sticking out of the wood. They were about four or five inches long.  He tried to force them into his chest thinking if they went into his heart he would die. They pierced his chest, but still he did not die. He gave up trying and somehow while still holding on to the plank that had been his torment and his salvation, he succumbed to exhaustion and fell asleep. Then when he woke in the moonlight, he saw a Chinese fishing vessel. He abandoned the plank and swam towards the boat.
When I looked up again the boat was at no more than arm's length from me and two Chinese men were hanging over the side and in no time grabbed me strongly by the arms and hoisted me into the boat. (Dad's Story)
There were a few other British prisoners that had been picked up, equally wretched and equally exhausted. The Chinese fishermen set the sail, and after some hours they landed at one of the islands, which must have been the cluster of islands that he had seen when he abandoned the Lisbon Maru. On the island, there were other survivors in one of the huts. The Chinese gave them tea, and soup and rice. They provided clothing. He, and the other survivors, never forgot the kindness and generosity of these Chinese fishing people who although poor themselves had provided so much. On a high point on the island, there was a mast flying the flag of that part of China, which was under the puppet leader Wang Jingwei who had made peace with the Japanese. Considered by many to be a traitor, he felt it was justified as a way to save Chinese lives in the face of an unwinnable war. Baird knew that they had no sympathy for the Japanese, but it was the only way for them to survive. The following day a Japanese patrol boat arrived and picked up the survivors.  Hamilton recalled that Lt Hargeaves Howell, who had broken out of the hold,  was one of the first to reach the islands. He was able to speak Chinese, and speaking in the Shanghai dialect, he told the villagers that the men in the water were British POWs and not Japanese. The villagers launched their boats and started picking up survivors. Some accounts suggest that the Japanese only started to pick up survivors after they had seen the fishermen from the islands picking up survivors from the sea.  Whilst the Japanese were rounding up the survivors, three men were hidden away, and the villagers later helped smuggle them to the China coast from where they made their way to Free China. 
   For the survivors picked up by the Japanese, the ordeal was not over. They were ordered by the Japanese to return the clothing to the villagers. They were then taken by the patrol boat to a larger vessel with some two hundred other survivors that had been picked up on other islands. The survivors sat on the open and exposed deck,  most with little clothing and this in the cold October temperatures of those Northern China latitudes. They were on this boat for two days and two nights before landing in Shanghai. No food was provided apart from hot watered-down milk in small quantities. Some men died from exposure, and their bodies were simply thrown overboard. In Shanghai, they were reunited with other survivors, but from the original draft of 1,816 men, there were only 970 that answered the roll. They were put on board another ship, the Shinsei Maru, and taken to the port of Moji in Japan to begin their forced labour. Many men succumbed to dysentery and diphtheria, and a further five died on the way to Japan. The Shinsei Maru docked at Moji on 10 October 1942. A number of men were sent to a hospital, the rest were moved to POW camps at Kobe and Osaka.
   Following liberation in August/September 1945, Douglas Baird returned to England by now a Captain. In March 1946 he married Ann Mary Roddam Shield who he had first met before leaving for Hong Kong. 

The wedding in March 1946
Douglas and his new wife sailed for Santiago de Chile in June 1946. They had a son and two daughters. Douglas passed away in 2011 at the age of ninety-four. He survived the battle, he survived his wounds, he survived the brutal incarceration in both Hong Kong and Japan, and he survived the tragic sinking of the Lisbon Maru. A remarkable man and a remarkable story.

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Acknowledgements:
I am most grateful to Douglas Baird's daughter Catherine Baird Williams for her help with this story, and for letting me have access to her father's diary Dad's Story. It had been written in a series of exercise books and bits of paper and was painstakingly typed up by Catherine, and a small number were printed and distributed to members of the family to preserve her father's memories.

Principal Sources:
Dad's Story by Douglas Baird (Edited by Catherine Baird Williams)
The Sinking of the Lisbon Maru Britain's Forgotten Wartime Tragedy (2006) by Tony Banham
The Sinking of the Lisbon Maru (1966) by Geoffrey Hamilton















Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Major Jack Reeve and a ceremonial event held in Hong Kong 30 October 1941

John Talbot Wentworth Reeve, known as 'Jack', was born in Grantham, Lincolnshire in April 1891. He had two siblings, a sister, Helen Laura Wentworth Reeve (1892-1939), and a brother Charles D'Arcy Wentworth Reeve (1894-1916). Jack Reeve was educated at Eton College and attended the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, before joining the Rifle Brigade as a subaltern in 1910.
   His name had somehow escaped me as my research is mostly focused on the garrison that was present when the war began in December 1941, and Brigadier Jack Reeve left Hong Kong in November 1941 just before the outbreak of war in the Pacific. I first noticed his name when I came across the photograph, shown below, which I found amongst the private papers of Major-General C. M. Maltby held at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London. Only three officers were identified in the notes. I am not sure of the identity of any of the other officers and civilians in the group. The photograph was clearly taken at Happy Valley. In the background, one can see the Jockey Club stands, and further to the left and the entrance porch to the Protestant Cemetery. The identified officers were Wing Commander Thomas Horry, sitting third from right. He was the Commanding Officer of the RAF Station in Hong Kong. He was forty-three-years-old, and like many of the senior officers, he was a veteran of WW1. More than that, he was a decorated war hero. He had served in the Royal Flying Corps and was accredited with eight 'kills' in the closing stages of WW1. He had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in 1919, the citation for which is shown below. 
An officer of exceptional courage and daring. In the face of driving rain and low clouds, he led his patrol into enemy territory in order to engage enemy troops and transport that were retiring. Reaching his objective he attacked the enemy with vigour, causing heavy casualties. He has in all destroyed three enemy aircraft and driven down another, out of control, and has, in addition, taken a leading part in the destruction of six others.
Wing Commander Horry left Hong Kong, to take up a new assignment with RAF Singapore,  on the ill-fated SS Ulysses which sailed from  Hong Kong on 7 December 1941. The war began the next day. Sitting next to Wing Commander Horry was fifty-year-old Brigadier Jack Reeve. He was the Commanding Officer of the infantry in Hong Kong. At that time the infantry consisted of four battalions. The 2nd Bn Royal Scots, the 1st Bn Middlesex, the 2nd Bn 14th Punjab Regiment and the 5th Bn 7th Rajput Regiment. Sitting next to Jack Reeve, in whites, was forty-eight-year-old Commodore Alfred Creighton Collinson the Senior Naval Officer in Hong Kong. He had joined the Royal Navy in 1914 and had served throughout WW1. 

Brigadier Jack Reeve sitting between  Wing Commander Horry and Commodore Collinson (IWM)
Jack Reeve was a regular officer, educated at Eton, he had graduated from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and joined the Rifle Brigade four years before WW1 began. He had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and had twice been mentioned in dispatches (MiD).  His brother Charles D'Arcy Wentworth Reeve was killed in 1916,  whilst serving with the Royal Flying Corps, in an air crash at Hounslow Heath. After the war, in 1919, he married Sybil Alice Agnew, the daughter of a baronet. They had one child, a daughter, Joanna.

                                                  Brigadier Jack Reeve in Hong Kong in1941 (Source: SCMP)

Fast forward through his army career in the twenties and thirties, and in 1938 Brigadier Reeve was appointed to command the infantry brigade in Hong Kong. In November 1941, the infantry was reinforced by two Canadian battalions, the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Canada. The Canadians arrived on 16 November 1941, and the reinforcement was a great morale boost to the garrison, as described by Major-General Maltby in his notes below.

                       Major-General Maltby describing the arrival of Canadian troops in November 1941. (IWM)

                                                       Source: Major-General Maltby's Private Papers (IWM)

As a result of the reinforcement, the infantry was split into two brigades. The Mainland (Kowloon) Brigade under Brigadier Cedric Wallis and the Island Brigade under Brigadier John Lawson, who was killed six weeks later, during the Battle for Hong Kong. Following the arrival of the Canadian troops and the reorganisation of the infantry, Brigadier Reeve returned to UK in November 1941 with his wife Sybil and their eighteen-year-old daughter Joanna. Passenger manifests show them arriving in Liverpool on the SS Denbighshire on 21 January 1942.  Jack Reeve took up various senior staff jobs in the UK with Home Command and was promoted to Major-General. During his career, he was appointed Commander, of the Order of the British Empire ( CBE) and a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB).
   The photograph with which we began this story captures that moment in time on 30 October 1941. The gathering of senior officers was on the occasion of a parade by the Hong Kong Singapore Royal Artillery (HKSRA) to mark their centenary. The regiment had first been embodied in Hong Kong in 1841 and was then known as the China Gun Lascars. There was a parade and a march-past with the new Governor Sir Mark Young taking the salute.


The photograph shows the parade and the march-past with Sir Mark in whites taking the salute. He commented in his notes that their pipe band played too fast and as a result, the march-past was a bit grim. In the upper photograph showing the parade, we can see in the background Leighton Hill. The buildings on top of it are government quarters for the families of senior civil servants. Only six or seven weeks later Leighton Hill would become a hard-fought battleground.

                     Major-General Maltby giving a speech in Urdu at Happy Valley sports ground October 30 1941 (IWM)

Jack Reeve retired shortly after the war ended. His wife, Sybil, died in 1949 after thirty years of marriage. Jack Reeve married, secondly in 1950, to Marjorie (Peggy) Frances Fry. She had been married and widowed twice before. Major-General Reeve passed away in June 1983 at the age of ninety-two. He was survived by his wife Peggy who was quite an extraordinary women in her own right. She was born in 1899 and served as a WRN officer in WW1. In 1919 she married John Knox Laughton, a naval officer. He, however, died from a mosquito bite in 1925. They had one child, a son, who served in the Royal Navy during WW2. He survived after having been torpedoed three times. Peggy married again in 1927 to Major-General Cyril Wagstaff. He too succumbed to an insect bite. He was killed by a wasp sting at the Military Academy at Woolwich.

                                                                                       Peggy Wentworth Reeve

In WW2, she joined the Army and served with the BEF in Flanders and was evacuated from Dunkirk. She was then posted to General HQ in Cairo where she commanded the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). She was appointed CBE in 1944. It was at this time that she first came to interact with Brigadier Jack Wentworth Reeve. She attained the rank of Brigadier. After the war, she served as a JP and was involved with the Red Cross. Jack called her after his wife died and romance blossomed. She passed away in 1998. These were extraordinary people, living in extraordinary times and doing extraordinary things.


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Monday, 31 December 2018

Captain Norman Cuthbertson, 2nd Bn Royal Scots - Hong Kong

Captain Norman Henderson Cuthbertson served as Adjutant for the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots during the Battle for Hong Kong in December 1941. In this slightly out-of-focus family photograph, we see him wearing the Royal Scots headdress known as the Glengarry. The background looks like pre-war Hong Kong, but I can't identify the buildings, but I think it could be Austin Barracks on the Peak. Perhaps a reader will know. His commission was gazetted in January 1938 at which time he was twenty-years-old. 

Captain Norman Cuthbertson (Courtesy: family)
The 2nd Battalion had been in Hong Kong since 1938 having been moved there from India. I am not sure when Norman Cuthbertson arrived in Hong Kong but it was probably in 1940. Britain was at war but Kong Kong although under threat of invasion, was still at peace and Hong Kong was a good posting. Augustus Muir in The First of Foot the official history of the Royal Scots wrote than many of the officers owned yachts and that Captain Drew-Wilkinson and Lt Cuthbertson were prominent among the enthusiasts. At that time the battalion utilised Victoria Barracks, nearby Murray Barracks and Austin Barracks.

The Royal Scots Glengarry
Norman Cuthbertson was born in 1918 in West Lothian, Scotland. He was the youngest of five siblings. He had two brothers and two sisters. In the photograph below we see him with his brother Andrew. Andrew tragically died at the age of ten which may not have been very long after the photograph was taken. Norman was around eight-years-old. In the photograph, he has an endearing tilt of the head, whilst his older brother has a slightly mischevious grin. They look like they were close to each other. 

Norman (right) and brother Andrew (left) - (Courtesy: family)
Lt Douglas Baird, 2/RS recalled being ordered to report to Battalion HQ at the skeet ground on Castle Peak Road to collect equipment during the early morning of Monday 8 December 1941. Whilst on his way with a corporal to Battalion HQ, they heard the sound of aircraft flying overhead. They were in fact, Japanese aircraft on their way to bomb and strafe Kai Tak Airport and Sham Shui Po Barracks. When he reached, Battalion HQ people were rushing in all directions. He ran into Captain Cuthbertson who was then serving as the battalion's Adjutant and who told them war had begun and that they were to get back to their battle positions on Pineapple Ridge. As Adjutant, Norman Cuthbertson would have been based at Battalion HQ serving as a right-hand man to the Battalion Commander, Lt -Col Simon White. The Adjutant for a battalion is normally a senior captain or major. He is in charge of administration, organisation and discipline, acting as a senior staff officer. 
   During the fighting on the Mainland, on Thursday 11 December, the Royal Scots war diary records that Captain Cuthbertson with personnel from the AA Platoon from Advanced Battalion HQ 'moved forward to PB 314 to thicken up defences in that area'. I was interested to find that Norman Cuthbertson had manned this PB on 11 December 1941. They had been heavily mortared but incurred no casualties. PB 314 is situated on the western side of Golden Hill Road. It's actually the one PB in that area that I have not managed to locate and explore but my friend and fellow history enthusiast, Alexander Macdonald, has been inside the remains of the PB.

Alexander Macdonald inside PB 314 (Courtesy: Alex Macdonald)
The remains of PB 314  (Courtesy: Alex Macdonald)
During the fighting at Wong Nai Chung Gap on Hong Kong Island, Lt Stancer, commanding 'C' Coy, 2/RS was wounded in the head by shrapnel and had to be hospitalised. Captain Cuthbertson, once again only too eager to get into the front-line replaced him as Company Commander. Cuthbertson had been at Battalion HQ which at that time was located near the petrol station at the junction of Stubbs Road and Tai Hang Road. Captain Cuthbertson's company came under heavy attack. Cuthbertson organised a counterattack and prevented the Japanese from moving forward down Blue Pool Valley. Cuthbertson was also wounded during the close-quarter fighting during which the battalion held on to Tai Hang Road and Wong Nai Chung Gap Road. They were later pushed back up Stubbs Road towards Wan Chai Gap. Hong Kong capitulated on Christmas Day and the Royal Scots were ordered to break off the fighting and surrender to the nearest Japanese commander. Lt-Col Simon White, Captain Douglas Ford and Pte King proceeded under the flag of truce to the Japanese positions on Stubbs Road. They were taken to No 48 Stubbs Road which was the local Japanese HQ. Augustus Muir notes that after the surrender when a roll was taken the battalion was down to four officers and ninety-eight other ranks.
   After the surrender, Cuthbertson was incarcerated in Sham Shui Po Camp and then Argyle Street. In late September 1942, 1,816 British prisoners of war including a large number of the Royal Scots were sent to Japan to work as slave labourers in factories, foundries, docks and mines. They boarded a Japanese armed freighter the Lisbon Maru. 2/Lt Baird recalled Norman, who he refers to as Ely, sleeping in the bunk above him.
Norman Cuthbertson our very tall Adjutant was nicknamed Ely, due to the similarity of his surname with that of the world-known contract bridge expert, Ely Culbertson.  His sleeping space was immediately above my head so together with Doug Fairbairn and Pip Stancer we became very friendly during the days lived on the Lisbon Maru. 
On 1 October 1942, the Lisbon Maru was torpedoed by an American submarine not realising that it was carrying British prisoners of war. The freighter was armed and carried no markings. It was also carrying Japanese troops. After the torpedo hit the ship, the engines stopped and the ship developed a list. The Japanese may have tried to effect repairs, but to no avail, the ship was sinking slowly, stern first, and taking in water faster than it could be pumped out.  The Japanese troops in the stern hold were taken off the ship by another vessel which came alongside. The prisoners had expected that they too would be taken off but instead, the hatches were closed up and battened down with tarpaulin and planks. The cargo holds were in pitch darkness, and without ventilation, they soon became very hot despite the northern latitude and the cold October temperatures. There was no drinking water. There was no sanitation, and with many men suffering from dysentery and other illnesses, conditions soon became appalling. After some twenty-four hours, the list worsened. One of the prisoners had somehow secreted a knife onboard, and this was used by an officer to cut through the tarpaulin and remove the planks. They then forced their way out, some being shot by the guards as they emerged on deck. The guards were quickly overcome, and the hatches opened on the other holds. By this time the main deck was already awash. There was a panic to get out of the hold as seawater poured inside. The staircase gave way, and a number of men were injured as they fell back into the hold. Lt Douglas Baird recalled the gallantry of Captain Norman Cuthbertson.
Water was pouring in steadily now... Then we saw our Adjutant Norman Cuthbertson make for the stairway and push his way down to the bottom of the hold against the current of men climbing up. The bottom of the hold was already knee-deep in water and we expected the Lisbon Maru to sink at any moment or turn turtle as the list became more pronounced. ... Cuthbertson with the help of RSM Goodfellow  had managed to get on to the deck most of our injured Royal Scots.
2/Lt Hamilton, 2/RS recalled that Captain Cuthbertson was the last one to leave Hold No. 2, having ensured that were no more injured men remaining. The men abandoned ship, some with life-vests others holding onto floating bits of wreckage. The Japanese vessels nearby then started machine-gunning survivors in the water or trying to run them down with their propellers. Chinese fishermen from some nearby islands started picking up survivors, and perhaps it was seeing this that the Japanese started to pick up survivors. When the survivors were put ashore near Shanghai, there was only 970 out of the original total of just over 1,800 prisoners of war. Some had died on the escort vessels, and many others died (more than two hundred) over the next few weeks from diphtheria and or dysentery following the sinking. One of these was Norman Cuthbertson. 

Yokohama War Cemetery        







He died aged twenty-four. Although still a young man, he had set an example for all. He put others before himself. When troops were desperately trying to get out of the hold, he was going back into it, to rescue the wounded or sick men that were not able to get out unassisted.  He was remembered by his fellow officers and men as an excellent soldier, a gallant officer, a strong leader and a very fine comrade. 

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Addendum 1:
Alex Macdonald advised me that there is a collection of items relating to Captain Norman Cuthbertson which was donated to the Royal Scots Museum in Edinburgh in 2010 by his niece Mrs Caroline (Caro) Cuthbertson Allen. These papers make reference to Norman being a motor-cycle enthusiast and include the photo below. This was taken in Hong Kong and is blown up from a larger photo of HQ Coy and show Norman sitting beside his motor-cyle in a group photo.




Acknowledgements:
I would like to express my thanks to Susan Hannel from the family for permission to use the photographs of Norman Cuthbertson as a boy and as an officer in the Royal Scots, and to Alex Macdonald for permission to use his photographs of PB314

Main Sources:
2nd Battalion Royal Scots War Diary
The First of Foot - The Official History of the Royal Scots (Augustus Muir)
Lt Baird's diary/memoirs (Dad's Story)  edited by his daughter Catherine Baird.
The Sinking of the Lisbon Maru (Geoffry Hamilton).



Monday, 10 December 2018

Eugenie Zaitzeff - Description of life in Japanese Occupied Hong Kong

I first became aware of Eugenie Zaitzeff when I read a file note from an interview with Hong Kong Government official David MacDougall dated December 1943. The file note is held at the Public Records Office in Hong Kong. She had been repatriated from Hong Kong with other Canadian citizens in September 1943 as part of a civilian internee exchange which had been agreed with Japan. A similar exchange involving US citizens had taken place in June 1942. Eugenie arrived in New York on the MS Gripsholm, a Swedish passenger liner, that had been chartered by the US Government to bring home Canadian and US citizens from internment in Asia. The Gripsholm sailed to Goa in India carrying Japanese civilians who had resided in North and South America. In Goa, she moored close to the Japanese troopship Teia Maru which was carrying Canadian and US citizens from internment camps in Asia, but some civilians, like Eugenie Zaitzeff, had not been interned. In her case, she had avoided internment on the grounds of her Russian descent. Also onboard was Emily (Micky) Hahn, the glamorous and unconventional American writer and traveller. She too had avoided internment on the grounds that she had been married to a Chinese national. Eugenie had struggled to survive in Japanese occupied Hong Kong, where food was desperately short, and theft and snatching was commonplace, not to mention the brutality of the Japanese gendarmerie and soldiery.
   The prisoners were exchanged. The Teia Maru sailed to Yokohama, and the Gripsholm sailed to New York. One can imagine the relief as the American and Canadian civilian internees boarded the neutral Swedish ship. The Japanese civilians, perhaps with some exceptions, were not happy to be going back. Many had made America their home, and Japan may have seemed like a foreign country. The Teia Maru stopped in Singapore and Manila on the way back to Japan. At these ports, the Japanese military recruited some of the passengers to help the war effort by serving as interpreters and translators. There was probably little choice.
   Whilst reading a file at the Imperial War Museum, I saw this press cutting with a centre photo of Eugenie and her eldest daughter Ann. The news report stated that she was a Russian lady born in China who had married a Russian-Canadian from Vancouver. She and her family had been part of the Russian emigre community who had fled to China following the Bolshevik revolution. After the Sino-Japanese war began in 1937 many Russians had left Harbin, Shanghai and other cities in China and had taken up residence in Hong Kong.

Press Cutting from Vancouver Daily Province Dec 1943 (IWM) 
Her husband Anatole Zaitzeff worked for the Canadian Government in Hong Kong. He had joined the HKVDC and served in No. 1 Battery. This battery was equipped with two 4-inch  coastal defence guns located at Cape D'Aguilar. After the battery was evacuated on 19 December 1941, the personnel were moved to Stanley where they fought as infantry during the close quarter fighting around Stanley Village. Anatole Zaitzeff was incarcerated at Sham Shui Po Camp and would not see Eugenie until after liberation in 1945.
   David MacDougall worked with the Ministry of Information in Hong Kong when war erupted in December 1941. He escaped with Admiral Chan Chak, the senior representative of the Chinese Nationalist Government, and the crews of the five remaining motor torpedo boats following the surrender on Christmas Day. Three of the original eight MTBs had been destroyed during hostilities. MacDougall had been posted from the UK to North America and returned to Hong Kong in September 1945, just after the war ended, in the rank of Brigadier serving as Chief of Civil Affairs in the military administration under Rear-Admiral Harcourt. Eugenie's debriefing provides a very interesting description of life in occupied Hong Kong. MacDougall wrote that she was a very useful source of information on what was happening in Hong Kong.
 A highly intelligent observer, able by reason of her Russian extraction to claim exemption from internment, Mrs Zaitzeff was by far the best informed of the Hongkong party. From the day of the surrender to her repatriation, she was lodged in a block of flats in May Road   (Abemore Court), reserved by the Japanese for foreigners. Such consular officers as remain in the Colony were housed in the same building. Mrs Zaitzeff was permitted to walk freely about Hong Kong and in spite of the unpleasantness, took every opportunity to do so. 
She described how the paths towards the university were lined with skeletons, which she thought were either those of British soldiers killed in the fighting or of Chinese civilians who had died of starvation. The Japanese lacked either sufficient food or the willingness to supply it to the Chinese, other than in lieu of wages. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese were forced to return to Southern China and POWs at Sham Shui Po Camp recall seeing huge columns of Chinese heading north to the border by way of both Castle Peak Road and Tai Po Road. They were prey to bandits, and many were robbed and or killed on the perilous way.
   Although burial parties of British POWs were sent out after the surrender to locate the British dead and conduct burials, many of the bodies could not be found and were left unburied. Somebody once mentioned to me, that a letter to the SCMP written after the war complained that there were still skeletal remains in the gulley opposite the AA position at Stanley Gap. Many of the Chinese population, especially the refugees from China, were unable to find work in Japanese occupied Hong Kong, and without the money to buy food, starvation became common. There were even reports of cannibalism, with flesh being cut away from dead bodies on the street. Eugenie noted that between four and six new corpses were to be seen most mornings on Old Peak Road leading from May Road to the Centre of Town.
Acute shortages are everywhere apparent. Flour and rice are scarce, and long queues are the order of the day. Necessities are obtainable only by ration tickets which are in turn obtainable only on proof that the individual is employed on work contributing to the establishment of the New Order and approved by the Japanese. The whole population is thus caught in the dilemma – they must either work for the Japanese or starve.

It is no longer safe to walk about with a handbag or parcel, even in the centre of the city. The handbag is snatched, and the parcel is stolen, and its contents are eaten before the eyes of the owner. 
She described how the Cricket Club in the centre of Victoria was used as a Japanese recreational club. Tennis tournaments and fencing (or perhaps Kendo) matches were held there. Hong Kong had been stripped, cars, metal railings, statues, and anything of value had been shipped back to Japan. Gas stoves were unobtainable, and electricity was scarce, and those that had access were rationed to a meagre amount of electricity. Eugenie described how most people sat in the dark with a candle if they could obtain one. Public transport was at a minimum. By September 1943 there were few buses, and the trams ran irregularly. They were crowded, and Japanese in uniform were excused payment and had priority. The Star Ferries still ran every half hour. There were very few civilian cars on the street given the shortage of fuel. Government House had been demolished, and the new building was under construction in 1943 in what Eugenie described as an exaggerated Japanese style of architecture. She was critical of Sir Shou Son Chow and Robert Kotewall
Kotewall and Shou Son Chow, who seem to vie with each other in pro-Japanese fervour and anti-British advocacy are two rare exceptions (to the no one runs a car rule). These two gentlemen are very much in the public eye. The Kotewall girls are among the few women who seem able to shop for anything save the bare necessities of life.

The police have been reinforced by fresh Chinese contingents drawn apparently from the North. Since the first American bombings, the Indian Police have grown markedly more polite to foreigners. At first, they were hostile. Cinemas are open in town and show either Japanese films or pictures of the triumphs of Wang Ching-Wei. When the show is frankly propagandist, admittance is free to all.
Many posters have been affixed to buildings in busy parts of the town; these depict a Chinese mother standing in an attitude of protection over her children while glancing fearfully at the sky. The caption reads  -Remember that it is American planes which are killing innocent women and children – the bombings are in fact welcomed even when a near–miss at the Central Police Station killed upwards of 150 Chinese including children. The successful bombing of the oil tanks at Lai Chi Kok was a seven-day wonder in the town. 
She described how very few Japanese merchant ships entered the harbour and those that did often moored close to Sham Shui Po Camp thinking there was less chance of being bombed with the POW Camp nearby. The bombing increased significantly in 1944 and 1945. Few of the British built air raid tunnels were used. The one below Battery Path opposite HSBC was in use, and likewise, one in Queens Road East was in use, but both of these were restricted to Japanese only.

Eugenie worked with Doctor Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke whereby she and other ladies picked up parcels containing food and medicine and delivered them to Sham Shui Po Camp addressed to individuals as presents from friends. She also reported that the dependents of Volunteers still interned (some Chinese members had been released) who have hitherto been paid 50 yen a month with 30 yen for the first child and 20 yen for each additional child have been ordered to proceed to St Albert's Seminary on Stubbs Road, known as Rosary Hill, for internment. 

Eugenie was reunited with her husband after the war ended in 1945. They continued to live in Vancouver, Canada and had a second child, Kristina, born in 1947. Eugenie passed away in 2001 but left to posterity this interesting description of life in Japanese occupied Hong Kong. 

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Sources:

Interview on repatriation to Canada with British official D.M MacDougall  - Source:  HK PRO File HKRS 211-2-4

Files at IWM 




Monday, 22 October 2018

Robert Grindley Southerton - Stanley Internment Camp

Fifty-year-old Robert Grindley Southerton was taking passage back home to Shanghai by way of Hong Kong. He was a teacher (and I think the headmaster) at the Shanghai Municipal Council Polytechnic School. He happened to be in Hong Kong and got stranded when the war began. His twenty-two-year-old daughter Muriel was in Shanghai. His wife Edith Ethel nee Witchell and his fifteeen-year-old son, also called Robert Grindley Southerton, which was something of a family tradition, had been in Australia and were returning separately via Manila. 

SMC Polytechnic Public School
His wife and son were 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 (Canadian and Australian) internees including Edith and her son Robert.

Santo Tomas University Internment Camp.
Robert Southerton (Snr.) was initially held at the Kowloon Hotel Temporary Internment Centre. Then in late January, he was moved to Stanley Camp. Those, like Robert,  who lived in Shanghai were later repatriated to Japanese controlled Shanghai. There were two repatriations, one in July and one in  December 1942. Robert returned to Shanghai and was reunited with his daughter Muriel. He then found that his wife and son had been interned in the Philippines. They were also repatriated to Shanghai in 1942. Initially, foreigners in Shanghai were not interned but in 1943 civilians from enemy countries like Britain, America and Holland were interned. These were mostly held in Shanghai and there were several different internment camps in and around the city. The book "Empire of the Sun" by J.G. Ballard, and the subsequent film portray life in a Shanghai internment camp through the eyes of a child. 
   Muriel Southerton was a stenographer working for Confederation Life, the Canadian insurance company. Edith, like her husband, was a school teacher. They had married in November 1917 in Hong Kong. After the family was reunited in Shanghai they were interned together 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 Municiplal Council employees. The family were repatriated after the war but their health never fully recovered. Robert Southerton died in February 1948 aged only fifty-six. Edith died the following year in November 1949 aged only fifty-three. 

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Sources:
Ancestry.com
Log Book of Internees Stanley Camp (Imperial War Museum)
Frank Fisher's diary (Imperial War Museum)
Captives of Empire by Greg Leck


Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Fortress Signal Coy - Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC) in the Battle for Hong Kong

The Fortress Signal Coy, HKVDC was mobilised on Monday, 8 December 1941. The unit consisted of two officers, a CSM and thirteen British Other Ranks (BORs) and approximately 100  Chinese linesmen. They were all staff of Hong Kong Telephone Company (HK Tel Co).

Major John Patrick Sherry (Formerly Manager HK Tel Co.)
Captain Walter Charles Clark (Formerly Assistant Manager HK Tel Co.)

CSM Robert Kirkwood

James McDonald Dalziel
Thomas Davis
Paul John Engelbrecht
Arthur Leslie Fisher
William James Geall
William George Griffin
Charles Hatt
Arthur Charles Jeffreys
Charles Francis Needham
Duncan Tollan
Ben William Simmons
Leslie Douglas Skinner

Robert Emmet Farrell

The European Engineers were all given the rank of sergeant, except Kirkwood who was given the rank of company sergeant major (CSM). The Chinese Inspectors were given the rank of Corporal and the rest of the linesmen were Privates. 
   Major Sherry reported to Lt-Col Eustace Levett, Chief Signals Officer as did Major Arthur Nathaniel Braude who commanded the HKVDC Signals. Lt-Col Levett was based in the Battle Box underneath the HQ Building Victoria Barracks. The Battle Box was completed in 1940. Captain Peter Gracey and Lt Cyril Bucke both Royal Corps of Signals were also based in the Battle Box.  
   Robert Farrell was Chief Engineer of Hong Kong Telephone.  After initial internment, he was able to secure his release on the grounds that he was a national of the  Irish Free State. He was also the Spanish Consul. In November 1942 he left for Macau with his Spanish wife and infant child. He was assisted by the British Consul John Reeves who helped him secure passage by junk to Free China, from where he returned to the UK. He served in the Army and was posted back to Hong Kong as a Major in 1945 to help with the repatriation of POWs.   
     We know quite a lot about Fortress Signal Coy because of the fascinating diary published by Arthur (Les) Fisher entitled I Will Remember (1996). 




Les Fisher recalls being provided with 12 rounds and a .38 revolver. A slightly less chunky handgun than the usual Webley .455. The Coy HQ was in the Exchange Building which had been the Head Office for Hong Kong Tel Co. The Exchange Building in Des Voeux Road was built in 1926 and demolished in 1977. In 1941, it accommodated the Lane Crawford Department Store and the building was also known as Lane Crawford House. In the basement, there was a popular Cafe known as the Cafe Wiseman (it had originally been established as Cafe Weissmann). Fisher was initially posted to the Kowloon Telephone Exchange. He was then moved to Aberdeen where his base was a commandeered cinema. At Aberdeen, the Signals detachment consisted of Sgt Ernest Edward ("Dodger") Green, RCS and three men from Royal Corps of Signals (RCS) and eight Canadian Signalmen under a Corporal and the eight Chinese linesmen under Sgt Fisher.
    The linesmen and engineers were continually trying to fix underground, and overground, telephone lines whilst under fire. Communication was almost exclusively by telephone - and when lines were broken they needed to be repaired urgently. On Sunday, 14 December  Les Fisher and the Aberdeen Detachment were relocated to a house on Bisney Road in Po Fu Lam. The house was on a knoll between Queen Mary Hospital (QMH) and the shoreline of Sandy Bay. Bisney Road ran between Pok Fu Lam Road and Victoria Road. Fisher describes entering the house and finding it fully furnished, with servants and a pet dog, but the owner had vacated. The house was in between the 9.2-inch battery at Fort Davis and the AA Battery near Waterfall Bay which were both firing, and being fired at. The next location was even more heavily shelled. They were sent to Quarry Bay on the North East Shore on the day the Japanese landed. Their job was to repair the main telephone cable running along the shoreline and fix the branch lines to the various pillboxes and alternative positions along the shore from Causeway Bay to Shau Kei Wan. After the Japanese landed Fisher was able to make his way across the divide and down to Repulse Bay Hotel. They were at the hotel when the Japanese arrived on 20 December and the siege of the hotel commenced. Fisher participated in the military evacuation of the hotel on the night of 22/23 December. He made it through to Stanley Prison where he remained until the surrender of the colony on 25 December 1941.
    Les Fisher was incarcerated in North Point Camp and later at Sham Shui Po Camp. After liberation, he continued to work for Hong Kong Telephone despite his weakened state. He was repatriated in mid-November 1945. Whereas most left by ship, and many on RN vessels, Fisher left by air. He was flown on a Dakota to Kunming. After spending a few days in Kunming they were flown to Calcutta.  From Calcutta, they flew on a BOAC Sunderland flying boat to Karachi. They then flew by Dakota to Baghdad, Cairo, Malta, Marseilles, and finally landing at Poole. Then by rail to Sheffield,  where he was reunited with his wife and daughter who he had not seen for five years since they were evacuated in July 1940. He returned to Hong Kong in 1946 and worked with HKT until retirement in 1954.




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Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Ensign Thomas Deacon wounded at Quatre Bras and a daughter born during the Battle of Waterloo

The Battle of Waterloo was fought on Sunday, 18 June 1815. It was a contest between the coalition of Britain, Prussia, the United Kingdom of the Netherlands including Belgium, and the Germanic States of Hanover, Nassau and Brunswick; and against the re-assembled French Army under the command of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Bonaparte had escaped from exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba in February 1815. He landed at Antibes in the South of France with his personal escort of 600 men and marched towards Paris. Louis XVIII, the newly restored King of France sent an army to stop him, but the army allied themselves with the old Emperor and joined his ranks. The King, a constitutional monarch, who had spent so much of his life in exile, fled Paris and Bonaparte marched into Paris, unopposed, at the head of a large and still growing army.
   The coalition included Russia and Austria, but they were not able to raise their respective armies in time for military intervention. The coalition formed two armies, a British Army and their Dutch and Germanic allies, under the command of the Duke of Wellington, and a Prussian Army under Field Marshal Von Blucher. The British Army included the King's German Legion mainly comprised of Hanoverians who had fled to Britain to serve in the military with the aim of freeing their homeland from Napoleonic occupation. In June 1815, Bonaparte left Paris at the head of an army of some 123,000 men and 360 guns with the intent of defeating the two opposing armies before they could come together. The defeat of the two armies would open the way for the subjugation of continental Europe.
   Lord George Byron, the romantic poet and adventurist, described the allied countries, in his lengthy epic poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, as the 'United Nations', and in so doing, gave rise to the moniker that replaced the League of Nations. It was a massive set-piece battle that from the outset stirred the imagination of Georgian Britain and the rest of Europe. It was a clash between the nation states of Europe and the concept of the French-controlled superstate. The victory brought peace to Europe for some 100 years.
    Charlotte, the Duchess of Richmond, hosted a ball in Brussels on the night of 15 June. It was attended by the Duke of Wellington with his officers, many of whom were accompanied by their ladies, who had come out to Brussels to be with their husbands. It was by all accounts a grand occasion.

The Duchess of Richmond's Ball by R.A. Hillingford
Byron captured the essence of the evening so vividly in his poem The Eve of Waterloo. He describes how the ball was interrupted by the cacophony of the cannon's opening roar. It was a call to arms, the army of Napoleon Bonaparte was heading to Brussels.
There was a sound of revelry by night, And Belgium's capital had gathered then Her beauty and her chivalry, and bright The lamps shone o'er fair women and brave men; A thousand hearts beat happily, and when Music arose with its voluptuous swell, Soft eyes looked love to eyes which spake again, And all went merry as a marriage-bell; But hush! hark! a deep sound strikes like a rising knell!  
The opening battle was fought at Quatre Bras on 16th June, and the main battle two days later at a location on rising ground south of the village of Waterloo. The battlefield is still a very popular tourist destination, just as it was in the 19th century. The topography has been somewhat altered by the amount of soil dug up for the construction of the Butte du Lion (the Lion Mound) seen in the photograph below. The construction of the mound was commissioned by King William of the Netherlands in 1820 and was completed in 1826 near the spot where his son, the Prince of Orange, was wounded in the battle.

The Writer on the Battlefield of Waterloo with Butte du Lion in the background


You can ascend to the base of the lion by a steep flight of steps. The platform below the lion provides in one coup d'oeil a 360-degree view of the battlefield, the sunken lane, and the farmhouses of La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont. The mound commemorates all those who fought, and the many who died, at Waterloo and Quatre Bras. There is also a circular building near the mound that is called the panorama. It houses a painting 360 foot long and 39 foot high that was commissioned in 1912. 

    I am digressing, so let me now return to the subject of this post. He was a young officer, an Ensign, by the name of Thomas Deacon who fought at Quatre Bras and was wounded in the battle. His pregnant wife with two young children walked from Quatre Bras to Brussels searching for her wounded husband. She found him in a military hospital in Brussels. She by then was exhausted, famished, sick and wet-through. Her baby was delivered that night on 18 June and named Waterloo Deacon.

    I first heard of Thomas Deacon when reading a book with the rather grand title Recollections of Military Service, in 1813, 1814, and 1815 through Germany, Holland, and France including some details of the Battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo. The book was written by Sgt Thomas Morris who served with the 73rd Regiment of Foot. It was first published in 1845 and is one of several first-hand accounts of the battle. 





    Whilst advancing under fire through the rye fields at Quatre Bras, Sgt Morris recalled that Ensign Deacon was on his right-hand side. On his left was Private Sam Shortly. Pte Shortly was killed outright by a musket ball to the forehead. Ensign Deacon was severely wounded by a musket ball that passed through his arm. The young officer withdrew to the rear to get his wounded arm dressed and attended. Deacon had been accompanied by his wife Martha and their two children who were somewhere in the rear. After having his wound dressed he looked for his wife but was unable to find her, and was later put on baggage-train to Brussels for hospitalisation. Martha heard from soldiers from  her husband's battalion that her husband had been wounded and conveyed to Brussels.

28th Regiment of Foot form a square to fend off French cavalry at Quatre Bras (by Lady Butler)
Martha and her two young children, Louisa Maria (b. 1809) and Charles Clemments (b. 1811) walked all the way to Brussels, a journey of some twenty miles.
'Conveyances there were none to be had, and she was in in the last stage of pregnancy, but encouraged by the hope of finding her husband, she made the best of her way on foot, with her children, exposed to the violence of the terrific storm of thunder, lightning, and rain, which continued without intermission for about ten hours. Faint, exhausted and wet to the skin, having no other clothes than a black silk dress and light shawl, she yet happily surmounted these difficulties, reached Brussels on the morning of 18th, and found her husband in very comfortable quarters, where she was also accommodated; the next day giving birth to a fine girl, which was afterwards christened Waterloo Deacon.' (Sgt Thomas Morris)
Thomas Deacon was born in 1788. He married Martha Ann Durrand on 31 August 1809. They married at St George's Church in Hanover Square. They were both aged twenty-one. She was the daughter of John Hodson Durand, who was Member of Parliament for Maidstone from 1802 to 1806. She appears to have been from a well-to-do family. However, I can not find much information on Thomas Deacon. I wonder whether he may have been a soldier in the rank and file. This is pure speculation but if he was an NCO, rather than a commissioned officer their marriage may not have been approved by her family and she may not have received financial support. Their first daughter Louisa was born in Woolwich, an Army depot, in 1809, in the same year in which they married. Suggesting the marriage may have been a necessity.  Their son Charles Clements was born in Hythe in 1811, another Army garrison town. This suggests that Thomas Deacon may have been in the Army before he was commissioned in the 73rd Regiment in April 1813 at the rather late age of twenty-five.  It would not be late if he had been commissioned from the ranks. We know his commission was not purchased. At that time officers in the cavalry and infantry regiments generally purchased commissions. There were exceptions, for example, the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers commissioned those who had attended training courses at their depots, and promoted on merit and seniority. During the Napoleonic Wars, there was a shortage of officers which was not filled by those willing to purchase a commission in the normal way. Gentlemen generally purchased commissions, and there was a derogatory term of 'not quite gentlemen' for some officers commissioned other than by purchase, for example by merit on the battlefield. There were some officers who were gentlemen, but impecunious, and could not afford to purchase a commission. Some of these joined as rank and file but messed with the officers. They looked to distinguish themselves during battle to win a commission.  Perhaps Deacon was one of these.
   Gordon Corrigan in Waterloo A New History of the Battle and its Armies  (2014) sets out the cost of purchasing a commission as an Ensign as being £900 for the prestigious Foot Guards and £400 in the Line infantry. The purchase price would be nine and four times the annual salary of an ensign. A sergeant could be commissioned without purchase following gallantry on the battlefield or a record of long service and good conduct. Gordon Corrigan suggests that as many as 10 per cent of officers at Waterloo had been commissioned from the ranks. Officers commissioned from the ranks were particularly useful as Adjutants as they were responsible for drilling, which was vital in battle in getting men into position and to form squares etc. Deacon served as an Adjutant in Ceylon.
    Waterloo Deacon, born 18 June 1815 during the Battle of Waterloo, was in fact christened Isabella Fleura Waterloo Deacon. After recovering from his wound, Thomas Deacon was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and was sent out to India and Ceylon. During Deacon's service in the Far East, Martha had five more children, but four of these died in infancy. Thomas Deacon reached the rank of Brevet Major in 1846. He died in 1853, whilst still serving in the Army, at the late age of sixty-five. He was buried in Madras, Southern India. Martha his loyal, long-suffering wife, died in 1855.
    As for Isabella Fleura Waterloo Deacon, as far as I can see she never married. She lived a long life and died in 1900 in Southsea, Hampshire. The local newspaper The Hampshire Advertiser reports the death of Isabella Fleura W. Deacon. I wonder whether she had stopped using Waterloo in her name. At the time of her death, she had been living with her niece who was the daughter of her brother, Charles Clements Deacon, who had walked, with his mother and sister from Quatre Bras to Brussels where Isabella was born in a military hospital just as the Battle of Waterloo unfolded and changed the history of Europe.



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Main Sources:

Recollections of military service in 1813, 1814, and 1815  by Thomas Morris

Ancesty.com

A blog entitled All things Georgian www.georgianera.wordpress.com