Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Sub Lt. William B Haslett, HKRNVR - his war

William Benjamin Haslett was born at the end of the Victorian century on 11th February 1894. He was a Marine Engineer from Belfast and that's all I know of him until he joined the Hong Kong Royal Naval Reserve on the outbreak of war in 1939 aged 45.

He was appointed to the Minewatching Branch as a Warrant officer,  initially based at the Mine Control Station Lamma (MCSL) located at Chung Am Kok.  The HKRNVR were responsible for the minefields which consisted of traditional contact mines with spiked detonators and electronic mines that could be detonated from two shore based stations.  Haslett describes the MCSL as being on a hill top with a flight of 130 steps up from the road. There was another station based at Shek-o Beach known as Mine Control Station Tathong (MCST). This is now a popular swimming beach. There was another station which monitored the indicator loops known as Tai Tam Indicator Loop Station (ILS).

Haslett was transferred to Taitam Indicator Loop Station.  Whilst stationed here he had a heart attack. He was taken to HMS Tamar sickbay where he recalls waiting in great pain to see a Doctor. The Doctor immediately arranged for him to be transferred to Kowloon Hospital where he was seen by Dr Uttley (later interned at Stanley Civilian Internment Camp). Realizing how seriously ill he was he was transferred him yet again to Queen Mary Hospital where Dr Wilkinson determined he had suffered a Coronary Thrombosis and would need to be hospitalized for 2 or 3 months.

On discharge he reported back to Lt Cdr Swetland, Mine Warfare Officer at HKRNVR headquarters in the converted sloop HMS Cornflower and after a period of leave was assigned to Mine Control Station Tathong (MCST) based at Shek-o as a Sub-Lt and Maintenance Engineer. He moved his personal effects from his flat in Prince Edward Road, Kowloon to a Chinese village house  on the beach at Shek-o. It must have seemed idyllic at times with the war in Europe far away - but the war clouds in Asia were gathering. Only a few months later, on  8th December 1941 the Japanese Imperial Army crossed the border and its air force bombed Hong Kong with impunity.

On the 18th December the Japanese effected a landing on the North Shore of Hong Kong Island . An order came to detonate the minefield, to destroy the station and report to Stanley Fort where Naval personnel would have to fight as infantry.

Now some confusion arises as to the facts. His commanding officer (although same rank) Sub Lt Nissim recalls ordering all officers and men at the Mine Control Station Tathong (Shek-o beach) to proceed forthwith to Stanley Fort. He recalls there being five cars available with preference given to those who were elderly or not very fit which would have included Haslett since he was recovering  from a heart condition.

Sub Lt Nissim and Sub Lts Fogwill and Landbert and WO Robertson claimed that Haslett insisted on going home to his house in the village where he had a valuable stamp collection and other personal effects and that he stated that he had no intention of leaving the village. In their opinion he was deserting his duties by not following instructions to leave with the rest of the detachment

Whereas,  Haslett recalls going back to pack some of his valuable belongings and returning to the station  to find it deserted and that Chinese villagers were already looting the premises or emergency rations and other items.

He went up to Shek-o Club which was an exclusive and expensive golf and recreation club surrounded by the villas of the wealthy and very much the same today. Haslett recalls how the No 1 Boy informed him that he was the only European left in Shek-o although this proved incorrect as a Mr & Mrs Dawson-Grove (later to be interned at Stanley Camp) were still in residence at their villa  No. 13 Shek-o.  They had not been informed of the evacuation. They were a retired couple of mature years. Herman Dawson-Grove being 64 and his wife Ethel being 55. They had a son of 17 who was with them during their incarceration in Stanley Internment Camp but not it seems at their villa at Shek-o at that time instead he was at HK University. Another son Anthony (Tony) Dawson-Goves was a fellow officer of Haslett as a Surgeon Lt. in HKRNVR. He was a well known physician before the war. He was interned in military POW Camps and later transferred to Japan. After the war he became a partner in Dr Anderson & Parners.

Haslett stayed with the Dawson-Groves sharing what limited tinned food they had available. He slept in their son's room who was away at University.

On Saturday 20th December in the late afternoon a group of Japanese soldiers with fixed bayonets  led by an officer with a drawn sword and a revolver came quickly and menacingly down the drive to the property. They were let in. Then after helping themselves themselves to what food was available they commandeered the family's two cars. The soldiers clambering in and Herman Dawson-Grove ordered to drive one  and his wife Ethel the other, with Haslett hanging on whilst standing on the running board.

They were ordered to drive not towards Shek-o Village as they had expected but in the other direction which I assume to mean towards Big Wave Bay. A short distance down the road they joined up with a company of Japanese soldiers who were resting there. Some officers were studying paps and with them   was a group of Chinese informers or guides, whether volunteers or coerced  one can only surmise but certainly there were a lot of 5th columnists amongst the civilian population who supported the Japanese and were glad to see the defeat of the British and no doubt were attracted by the Japanese promise of liberating Asia for the Asiatics.

At this point Ethel Dawson-Grove was ordered harshly to return home. Haslett describes how they then went over the hillside, which would have been quite a steep climb, to Fort Collinson. The fort manned by 36th Coast Battery, 8th Coast Regiment Royal Artillery was equipped with 6 inch guns. The fort had been evacuated and the guns disabled on the 19th and the battery personnel withdrawn to Stanley Fort.

They then proceeded along Cape Collinson Road - then down into a valley and up the steep hillside to the road linking Shau Kai Wan with Tai Tam Gap. This 4 or 5 mile march had been quite a strain on both men. Herman being elderly and asthmatic and Haslett still recovering from his heart attack. They were made to carry equipment and when they fell they were kicked on the ground to keep going. Herman was faring less well because of his asthma and was eventually dragged along by the Chinese guides - one of whom was trying to remove his gold cuff links. At this point of pain and exhaustion he pleaded with the Japanese just to shoot him.

They spent the night of the 21st December lying in the open without water. The japanese placed them at their front  in an exposed position near where their sentries were posted. As dawn came up on 22nd of December they watched a mass of Japanese infantry which Haslett estimated to be of about 1,500 to 2,000 men pass through the Gap and then turn right in the direction of Tai Tam and Stanley. There then followed Japanese soldiers with mules carrying light guns and other equipment.

After this they were left alone and took their time returning back to No 13 Shek-o where they were reunited with Ethel who had spent a sleepless night alone in the house. For the next few days there was little sign of the Japanese until after the surrender. However looting continued with Chinese gangsters from nearby Shaukeiwan going to Shek-o. Ethel Dawson-Grove drove one of the cars to Shek-o Club and obtained a rifle and ammunition which helped fend off potential looters.

On 26th December the day after the surrender of Hong Kong the first lorry load of Japanese soldiers arrived in Shek-o. They were allowed to remain at No 13 until  31st December when they were driven off to HK and subsequent internment.  As Ethel was packing tinned food on their removal from Shek-o - a Japanese soldier took a tin of sardines and placed it in his pocket. During the lorry ride to town she was able to surreptitiously remove it from his pocket ad slip it down the front of her dress. Never one to be outdone!

The Dawson-Groves survived the three and half years of internment despite the starvation rations, the resultant weakness and malnutrition and the lack of medicine when sickness arose. They and their son Glascott Eyre were lucky enough to share one small Indian Guardroom all to themselves. Sub Lt Haslett also went into the civilian internment camp where conditions were hard but not as hard as the military POW Camps where he would have been interned had he stayed with the Navy.

Did Sub Lt. Haslett desert his post - questionable. Did he disobey an order - probable. At the end of the day he was probably not sufficiently fit to have been on active service with the Navy but I guess in a time of war all hands were needed. He lost all his possessions.  He returned to UK on the troopship Empress of Australia as a sick man and he died not long after the war, in January 1947 at the early age of 53.

This was his war.


Unpublished letters/reports

Monday, 26 August 2013

The Dogs of War & Pets in Stanley

One of the first books I read on the Battle for Hong Kong was entitled "I escaped from Hong Kong".  My copy was published in America in 1942 on war time type paper and is signed by the Author Jan Henrik Marsman. It's a first hand account of his experiences,  of being caught up in the battle and in the siege of the Repulse Bay Hotel, and his subsequent escape from occupied Hong Kong.

Jan Marsman a Dutchman,  resident in Philippines and the US was the proprietor of a company Marsman & Co which was involved in a number of business including construction - his company had built some of the air raid shelters in Hong Kong. He was on a business trip to Hong Kong in December 1941 and was due to depart on the Pan Am Clipper on the morning of 8th December. These plans were rudely interrupted by the outbreak of war and the bombing of Kai Tak which saw the destruction of the Pan Am Clipper and a number of other military and civilian aircraft.

Marsman later took refuge in the Repulse Bay Hotel which after the Japanese invaded the Island soon came under siege with snipers firing down from the hills behind the hotel.

Marsman describes how the Japanese snipers worked with specially trained alsatian dogs.

"the dogs were trained to fight with the snipers. The dog as silently as his master the sniper, would crawl along through the underbrush without making a sound or a false move for many hours. He would wait until he detected the presence of an English defender in ambush. Then with a fierce bark , the dog would charge and leap on the defender. The defender, trying to fire at his human foe and fend off the animal a the same time, obviously had a very rough time. Many a Japanese sniper by his dog was saved from being successfully ambushed. Snipers and their dogs lay all around us in the shrubs and tangled wildwood of the hillside amphitheater encircling the Repulse Bay Hotel."(1)

I recently saw a clip from a Japanese news film about the Battle of Hong Kong which briefly showed a group of I assume snipers with netting for camouflage and with dogs that were difficult to identify their breed because of the grainy nature of the film but looked more like Doberman than alsations.

In addition to the Japanese sniper dogs in the hills Marsman describes how a number of pet dogs abandoned by their owners in their homes, had found their way to the Repulse Bay Hotel.

"When the hill residents had abandoned their villas, they also left their dogs behind. Without exception , every one of the Cockers, Dalmations, Pekinese, Chows, Dobermans, wire haired fox terriers, and Irish setters found his or her way to master or mistress. We had more mouths to feed, and we managed to find food for them". (1)

Lance Searle a policeman in Hong Kong who was later interned at Stanley writes in his diary about the Japanese  use of Alsatian dogs - " on visiting the Japanese General HQ at HKU, I was surprised at the amount of small trench mortars the troops carried, also at the number of Alsatian dogs ......they took no notice of any of the Japanese, but when a Chinese or European went or passed nearby, they would strain at their leashes".  (2)

Somewhat surprisingly a number of internees were able to bring their pets into Stanley Internment Camp. Muriel Hassard, the Matron at the Diocesan Boys School was able to bring her dog "Missie" into Camp. Nicola Tyrer in her book "Stolen Childhoods" about children growing up in internment camps describes how "Missie" and other pets had to be put down.

"Missie was Matron's Scottie dog, and since her husband's death, her dearest friend. Initially the camp was crowded with cats and dogs. The animal loving British could not bear to leave their pets. Within 6 months a decision had been taken by the camp authorities that there was not enough food to feed animals as well as humans. The camp committee decreed  that all domestic animals were to be put down. Bill (Macauley) volunteered to take Missie up the hillside" (3) where they were disposed of with a whack from a spade or hammer and buried on the hillside.

Sadly Muriel herself died in camp on 26th August 1945 only days away from liberation and after the Japanese capitulation. She was 59 and died of a heart failure leaving behind in camp, her younger sister
Margaret Winifred Sutton.

Franklin Gimson the Representative of the Internees and the Colonial Secretary who had arrived in Hong Kong the day before war broke out writes in his diary for November 1943 about the removal of dogs.

"Considerable excitement was caused by the Japanese order that all dogs were to be removed from the Camp. There was  still a few remaining and the owners were summoned up to Japanese HQ where the dogs were removed in the presence of a large number of  military officers. Mrs Howie  caused rather a scene and her husband was removed to Gedarmerie HQ  for an hour’s  detention in consequence of her actions. The principal factor effecting the Camp  was that Mrs Hardie (who acted as Japanese Interpreter for Franklin Gimson) decided to kill her own dog in preference to handing it to the Japanese. Thereby she caused resentment  on their part and has not been accepted  as the Camp Interpreter for the future. At present Bickerton is undertaking this duty and is improving every day." 

Don Ady who was a child in Stanley Camp recalls, " Harriet Refo, my age, brought one into camp. A cat. The Refoe family came a little late into Camp, having been under house arrest at the home of the Kennedy-Skipton family. I think they got ground transportation and had some ability to bring in more things than those coming with the general influx from hotels via a launch. And what did it eat  ? Harriet scrounged fish heads from the garbage. These should really have gone intact into the American's fish stew. However in finding the fish heads, Harriet discovered a scam for which she was regarded as a heroine. The fish heads were overly long. One would think that some cooks were going back to them later, hidden in the garbage as they were, and recovering a bit of extra ration from that portion of the fish fuselage behind the head. Before leaving camp on June 29th (1942) with the American repatriation,  Harriet gave the dog to a nice Englishman who had lost his wife". (4)

Barbara Anslow who was in Stanley Camp with her mother and sisters wrote:

"I recall at least one other dog as well as Mrs Hassard's - Flossie who belonged to Nursing Sister Williams I believe. During the fighting , Sister Williams thought it best to have Flossie put to sleep, and arranged for some one to shoot her, but the shot din't kill Flossie so she was brought into Stanley.

There must have been a few cats (maybe left behind by pre-war occupants of our quarters) because at some time during internment  we Redwoods acquired a kitten whom we called Henry. We got him because my sister Mabel screamed out in the night that something had run over her face. Suspecting a rat we decided we needed a cat. No milk pr Kitticat for Henry ! Like s he lived on a rice diet to which all four of us contributed a tiny morsel. Henry stayed in our room all the time , except in the evening when my Mum took him out for a walk round the Block. Henry survived and when Mum was about to be repatriated she handed him over to a couple who were going to stay on in Hong Kong". (5)

A number of chickens were kept by internees.  Alice Briggs writes, "my remaining room mate at that time was Elma Kelly, an Australian journalist . She had brought a chicken into camp in the hope of a few extra eggs to supplement her diet ......sadly it turned out to be a cockerel and was put into somebody else's stew. She had not the heart to eat it herself". (6)

The top dog has to be Sgt Gander the regimental mascot of the Royal Rifles of Canada. A massive Newfoundland dog who came out to war with the Canadian Army two battalions of which arrived in Hong Kong in November 1941

Sgt Gander was attached to C Company Royal Rifles who were deployed on the North Shore around Lye Mun Barracks and  Saiwan Fort.  On the night of 18th December they found themselves right in the path of the Japanese landings. What happened is not exactly clear but it is reported that grenade was lobbed at a group of Canadian soldiers badly wounded and pinned down by enemy fire = Gander took the Grenade in his mouth and ran towards the enemy who took to their heels. The grenade exploded in Gander's mouth and Gander died. Gander was subsequently awarded the Dickin Medal for gallantry displayed by animals.


(1)    "I escaped from Hong Kong"  Pages 34-35  Jan Henrik Marsman  (1942)

(2)     Unpublished diary of Lancelot Searle held at Bodleian Library, Oxford

(3)     "Stolen Childhoods" Page 167 Nicola Tyrer  (2011)

(4)     Email posting by Don Ady to author on Stanley Email Group

(5)     Email posting by Barbara Anslow (nee Redwood) on Stanley Email Group

(6)     "From Peking to Perth" Page 107 - Alice Briggs (1984)

"Sergeant Gander - A Canadian hero"    Robyn Walker 2009

Friday, 16 August 2013

John George Frelford - 1st Bn Middlesex Regiment

John George Felford is listed as a civilian internee at Stanley Camp billeted in Block 9 Room 12 . This was part of the main building of St Stephens College. The room accommodated  twelve male internees including a number of wireless officers and technicians, previously employed by the GPO (General Post Office), and some former China Maritime Customs (CMC) staff, and two merchant navy men both of whom died during their period of incarceration.

In the log of internees held at the Imperial War Museum - John Frelford is listed as a Shop Assistant, but  there is more to him than that.  I wonder whether his  room mates knew that he was really a Private in the 1st Battalion the Middlesex Regiment. This regiment was a machine gun regiment, and equipped with the Vickers Medium Machine Gun (MMG) and primarily manned static defenses for example the beach defence pillboxes that were located at intervals around the shoreline of Hong Kong Island. They fought particularly well in the Battle for Hong Kong and lived  up to their reputation as the Die Hards.

They were a unit that seldom withdrew, and they were men that were seldom down-hearted, with their London and cockney humor never far away. The Middlesex were formed in 1881 from an amalgamation of the 57th (West Middlesex) Foot Regiment and 77th East Middlesex Foot Regiment. They, or rather their forbears, the 57th  of Foot, won the epithet of the Die Hards in the Peninsular War at the Battle of Albuera fought on 16th May 1811.  The Colonel had his horse shot from under him, and was seriously wounded. With his regiment outnumbered, he called upon his men to Die Hard,  57th, and this they did to a last man. Every year the Middlesex Regiment celebrated the anniversary of the Battle of Albuera when a band of men stood fast and died hard.

The Battle of Albuera
I was reading a report submitted by Lt Lewis Bush, HKRNVR, to Commander Vernall, his commanding officer. The report was submitted some time after the war, and accounted for his movements after the British capitulation. At one stage Lt Bush was being held, for suspected espionage, in Gendarme HQ at Happy Valley, in what had been a former convent school. Bush was married to a Japanese lady, Kaneko, and before joining the Navy in 1940 he had taught English in Japan, and while doing so had learnt to speak Japanese fluently. In the letter to his commanding officer  he recounts his incarceration at Gendarme  HQ. 
"Until January 23rd I was left entirely alone and was not even questioned.  There was a Private of the Middlesex Regiment  there at the time, Felford by name, whose conduct was excellent and proper in every way and who was a real credit to his regiment". (1)
In Lewis Bush's book The Road to Inamura (1972), we learn a bit more about  John Frelford:
"The next day a Japanese officer  came to question us .........I took the opportunity  to ask him about Frelford, who was now to be seen walking about the courtyard. He said that the man had been left in their charge by a Japanese unit which had gone south to  the Dutch East Indies and Guadalcanal. They had been requested to give him every consideration as he had saved the life of a Japanese soldier by tending his wounds. I pointed out  that such special treatment would only put the man in a very embarrassing position and I was sure he would like to join us. Shortly after this Frelford was telling us his story.
He had been fighting in the Stanley area and was cut off from his unit, most of whom had been killed, when he stumbled on a Japanese soldier behind a rock. The man was unconscious and bleeding from wounds in his head and chest. He gave him water and bound his wounds, but (Frelford must have then passed out and) just as he opened his eyes, four or five Japanese appeared and were going to shoot Frelford when the wounded man spoke up". (2)
"A Japanese officer inquired:
'Why did you assist an enemy'.
'A wounded man, whether he be friend or foe, is just the same. Any human being would act as I did', replied Frelford. 
From that moment the Japanese made him their special charge. Frelford was a decent fellow  and a good soldier and had a union jack wrapped around his waist which he was keeping for the day of victory." (2)
John Frelford was well treated by the Japanese who were astonished by his actions. Japanese soldiers very often slaughtered wounded enemy soldiers especially those that could not walk. When Lt Bush ran into him at the Gendarme HQ in Happy Valley, Frelford had been allowed to go out and buy things during daylight, and had been given an appropriate pass. However he felt the disapproving looks of passers-by who no doubt assumed he may have been some sort of collaborator. 

It is not yet clear when he was transferred to Stanley Internment Camp I suspect in March or April 1942. He was away from his friends and fighting colleagues, who were mostly held in Sham Shui Po POW Camp. However, he was much better off in the civilian internment camp at Stanley rather than the more brutal military POW camps. Lt Bush had also been put in Stanley Camp, but he insisted that he should be held with his HKRNVR colleagues, and was eventually moved to Sham Shui Po,  and later transferred to Japan. I assume Frelford wanted to stay in Stanley Camp and may have been concerned that his comrades from 1/Mx would have disapproved of his having taken favourable treatment from the enemy.

There were quite a few HKVDC and HKRNVR members who ended up for various reasons in Stanley Camp rather than POW camp. There were also several civilians who ended up in military POW camps. As far as I know there were only two other regular soldiers in Stanley Camp, and they  were also there incognito. There was a Canadian soldier Private James Clayton Riley of 'A' Coy Royal Rifles of Canada who was caught up in the siege of the Repulse Bay Hotel. Brigadier John Price in an article entitled "The Repatriated Rifleman" writes that:
"He was a man greatly addicted to liquor  whose record in the Army had only been distinguished by his genius for running foul of the authorities and getting into trouble. Many civilians had taken refuge in the hotel which greatly complicated  its defence and when it became evident that it could not be held  it was decided  that all soldiers must leave so that the civilians could surrender as noncombatants and not have their existence imperiled by the presence of troops. The hotel was well stocked with food and drink. Riley true to form, had deserted his post, found the cellar where liquor was kept and proceeded to get so drunk that he passed out. He was found by an NCO  who, to get him out of the way of the defenders, put him in a room pending further action". (4)
He was left behind in the hurry when the rest of the military vacated the hotel during the night whilst  trying  to extricating through Japanese lines to reach the British troops still holding out at Stanley. He was then discovered by the civilian guests, and hurriedly provided with civilian clothes, as the civilian guest were worried about the reaction of Japanese troops if they discovered a soldier amongst them.  He was taken captive with the rest of the civilians and marched to North Point (Druro Paint factory), and then later held at the Kowloon Hotel which was used as a holding place for civilian prisoners. In late January 1942 he was  incacerated in Stanley Camp with other civilians under the assumed name of James Riley. His occupation was given as a Cook.

Brigadier Price takes up the story again.
"In the late Autumn of 1942 when I was an inmate of Argyle Street Officers Camp, I received a postcard from Stanley Camp  signed James Riley Ryan, and again another during the winter of 1943. Finally another card arrived from May Waters, one of the Canadian Nursing Sisters who had been taken to the civilian camp, mentioning the same name and saying how helpful  he had been and sending his regards to us all. I made some enquiries and eventually Major Young, the Commander of 'A' Coy, remembered the incident of the drunken soldier at the Repulse Bay Hotel. We felt sure that this must be the same name but, as any action on our part would most certainly have resulted in his death, we did nothing at the time."(4)
He was repatriated in September 1943 together with other Canadian civilians who were interned at Stanley Camp. On arrival in Canada he did make himself known to the authorities. However, I suspect he may have missed out the dereliction of duty and getting drunk whilst on duty defending  the position at Repulse Bay Hotel. At any rate he was granted a discharge and returned to civilian life.
"The final chapter took place  in Toronto in 1946. Major Young attending a meeting there, had occasion  to take a taxi. He thought the driver looked vaguely familiar but decided he was probably wrong. However when he paid his fare, the driver leaned out the window and said 'Give my regards to all the boys Major' and drove off. Major Young realized it was Riley and could only say a few chosen words to the vanishing taxi."(4)
The other regular soldier in Stanley Camp was a Sgt. Hammond of the RASC  who together with Staff Sgt Patrick Sheridan were Army Bakers. They had been kept out of camp to perform baking and bread making duties under the supervision of a kindly Japanese officer, Captain Tanaka. They worked with some civilian bakers including Thomas Edgar, a Master Baker who had worked for Lane Crawford before the war. Sgt Hammond had pointed out to Captain Tanaka that they were military bakers, but they were treated as civilians and later incarcerated at Stanley Camp, except for Staff Sgt Sheridan who was able to escape from Hong Kong to Free China. 

On the Stanley Camp List there is one other internee whose occupation is openly described as a "soldier". This is Walter Donald D'Evan Twidale. He was in Camp with his daughter Rose Marie Twidale born in September 1936. There is no reference to a spouse so I assume he was either widowed or divorced as he married in Stanley Camp to Beatrice Rose Cullen in July 1942. Reading the diary of Franklin Gimson, the Colonial Secretary, the diary which is held at Rhodes House, Oxford University, refers to Twidale as being something of a troublemaker.
"Darkin of the Police came to see me on the subject of Twidale who is apparently a very bad hat. He has married into the Cullen family whose reputation is none of the best. I also addressed Yamashita on the subject of Twidale. He promised to deal with him by threatening that he should send them to gaol if they did not reform." (5)
Just to add to this mystery I did see on Ancestry.com that there was a Walter Manders Twidale who was born on the same date, 22nd April 1917, as the person in Camp  listed as Walter Donald D’Evan Twidale. I am not sure if this is one and the same person, but I assume it must be. This Walter Twidale with the same birthdate, but a different middle name had enlisted in the Regular Army (Royal Leicestershire Regiment) for seven years in December 1935. He was discharged in January 1936, a month after joining, which seems strange unless for conduct reasons, and then re-enlisted in April 1936. I assume that although listed as a soldier he must have been an ex-soldier. Perhaps he was discharged for a second time.  

Let us return to John Felford with whom we started this story. I searched for information on him to no avail, except that I found there was a file under his name at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. On a trip to London I made my way to the museum and read the file on Frelford, but unfortunately there was very little in it. There was just some correspondence with the Ministry of Defence (MOD). A letter to MOD was written by his wife, as apparently Frelford was blind at that time. The letter was dated 19/3/88. It was sent from an address in Warle, Weston-Super-Mare. The letter was broadly as follows:

"Dear Sir: I have to inform you that I am writing a story of the supernatural [he apparently had clairvoyant ability] covering events that happened at Maryknoll Monastery, Stanley Peninsula on December 25th 1941. I wish to dedicate my book to the memory of the officers and men of D Coy  1st Battalion, Middlesex who surrendered to the Japanese  on December 25th 1941 and were then killed by the Japanese for surrendering."
He then asks for a list of the names of those soldiers in his company who were put to death at and around the Maryknoll House for inclusion in his book.  He asked if the troops which attacked the Maryknoll were Japanese or Korean. They were of ofcourse Japanese as they were front line troops engaged in close quarter combat. The letter from Frelford has a handwritten annotation from what was then the Middlesex Regimental Museum noting that the address of Major Waldron had been passed to Frelford in order to assist him with his enquiry. Major Waldron had served as a Colour Sgt  in 1/Mx during the Battle for Hong Kong in 1941.

Maryknoll House, Stanley
We know that Frelford was a member of 'D' Coy, and his capture occurred on 24/25th December. 'D' Coy commanded by Lt Scantlebury were based at Maryknoll House. During the battle for Stanley Village they were bypassed by Japanese troops pressing on towards, the village, St Stephen's College and Stanley Fort. There were also several members of No. 1 Coy, HKVDC who together with 'D' Coy, 1/Mx were defending the mound on which the Maryknoll Monastery stood. On realising that they had been bypassed they tried to extricate in small groups back to British lines. Most were killed, or captured, and those that were captured whether wounded or not were put to death. Lt Scantlebury, and a number of officers and Other Ranks were executed by bayonet in an alleyway adjacent to the nearby Carmelite Monastery.

At the end of the day, an act of mercy in the midst of battle - helping an injured enemy soldier - was repaid by a brutal enemy with some  degree of kindness and gratitude, it would have been churlish to refuse, and as a result John  Frelford lived on to be able to tell the tale, but unfortunately I'm not sure that he did - tell the tale.



(1) Report to Cdr Vernall, HKRNVR from Lt Bush, HKRNVR  (HK PRO)

(2) "The Road to Inamura" by Lewis Bush published by Charles E Tuttle Company in Japan in 1972

(3) File in National Army Museum  - NAM19940-03-330-1

(4) Appendix L - The Repatriated Rifleman  by BrigadierJohn Price in The Royal Rifles of Canada in Hong Kong  1941-1945 by Grant Garneau

(5) Franklin Gimson's Diary 15 Aug 1943

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Bishops House - Hong Kong

Bishops House 

This is a beautiful and somewhat imposing building with its tower and castle like windows. It  sits on a knoll just above the hustle and bustle of Central business area of Hong Kong. It was built around 1848,  to be used to house the Head of the Anglican Church and to house an Anglo-Chinese school known as St Paul's College, a school that still survives although after WW2 the school relocated to its present site in Bonham Road next to the University of Hong Kong.

Bishops House - from the front

On the 19th of July 2013, I was lucky enough to see inside the building as a guest of historian and author Geoff Emerson and the Rev. Philip Wickeri, Advisor to the Archbishop on theological and historical studies. With us was Emily Mosely visiting Hong Kong who had a special interest as she is the great grand-daughter of Arthur D Stewart who lived in this building as Headmaster of St Paul's College from 1909 to 1930.

Bishops House - the rear
St Paul's College is one of the oldest schools in Hong Kong. The founder being Rev. Vincent John Stanton who was appointed as the first Colonial Chaplain of Hong Kong in 1843 only a few years after the 1st Opium War.

Geoff Emerson and Emily Mosey at Bishops House
The house was used to accommodate the school as well as the Anglican Bishop of Hong Kong. The house was being renovated at the time we visited, but you can see in the photographs below, the wide rooms and high ceilings. It was a nostalgic visit for Geoff Emerson who started teaching at St Paul's in 1964  and was given accommodation in Bishops House.  The Rev. Philip Wickeri kindly showed us around this fascinating piece of Hong Kong's history.

The Rev. Philip Wickeri and Geoff Emerson at Bishop's House

Reflections of Bishops House in the windows of adjacent buildings

Wide rooms, high ceilings and tall doors

Admiring the "history chair"

the 'history chair'

Interior (under renovation)

The lawn at the rear

You may be wondering what the connection is with WW2 in Hong Kong and Bishops House.  Well I will start with Francis Braun a Hungarian printer who worked for Ye Old Printerie owned by the Labrum bothers who had joined the HKVDC and were incarcerated in Shamshuipo POW Camp after the British capitulation.

Francis Braun was arrested by Police on the outbreak of the Pacific War and taken to Stanley Prison to be interned as an enemy alien. Hungary had just declared war on Great Britain.  Prisoners were released to make way for enemy aliens and he found himself interned with Germans, Italians and Japanese. They were bombed and shelled until the surrender on 25th of December. They were released by the Japanese on 28th December and taken to Repulse Bay Hotel  for tea and biscuits and then driven up Repulse Bay Road and through Wong Nei Chung Gap to Central.

Braun joined with other release internees and found a hotel on the Wanchai waterfront  called the Luk Kwok Hotel. A hotel built in the 1930s and although rebuilt still exists. The hotel's website shows the old building:

Let's hear now from Francis Braun:

"Having settled in my newest abode, I went to see some friends in the Bishop's House in Lower Albert Road, in a lovely wooded area just above the Central District. .........The Reverend Alistaire Rose, The Dean of St John's Cathedral , said that I might, if I wished , move into Bishop's House. I moved in on the fourth of January." (1)

The Rev Rose was shortly after this interned by the Japanese together with British, Dutch and American civilians. They were first held in cheap hotels and brothels on the Western end of town and then transferred to Stanley Internment Camp on or around 21st January 1942.

"There were a great many nationalities in the Bishop's House, almost all of them swept together by the storm of the war: Danes, Norwegians, Russians, Chinese, Austrians, Germans and a Hungarian. There was an old American  from the Tao Fong Shan Mission, an American female pianist, and even a member of the Red Cross who was later interned because of his British nationality.

The Bishop's House was managed by a Mrs I Klein, her husband a medical doctor who died during the war, and a Dr Hart, an Austrian, connected with the Church." (1)

The British and Americans left for internment on 5th January 1942. Francis Braun writes "a few days after the exodus of our friends four Japanese officers and their batmen were billeted with us. They did not mix with us nor did they interfere with the management of the house".  (1)  Braun continued to live in Bishops House until 1943 when he moved to Kowloon to share an apartment with an elderly German couple.

Arthur D Stewart was Headmaster of St Paul's College  from 1909 until his brother Evan Stewart took over  in 1930. This framed photograph of A D Stewart is on one of the walls of Bishop's House

A D Stewart former Headmaster of St Paul's College (1909-1930)

A D Stewart

Arthur Stewart's sister Kathleen founded St Paul's Girls School. His brother Evan George Stewart was a member of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corp and was Commanding Officer of No 3 Machine Gun Company who were in the thick of action at Jardines Lookout.

Evan Stewart and Arthur Dudley Stewart married sisters the daughters of Gerard Heath Lander (1861-1934) who was Anglican Bishop of Hong Kong and South China from 1907 until 1920 and Headmaster of St Paul's College.  He therefore would have resided at Bishops House.  Arthur D Stewart (1877-1953) married Katherine Lander (1895-1973) and Evan Stewart (1892 -1958) married Dorothy Sarah Lander (1896-1990)

Arthur and Evan Stewart's parents were Church Missionary Society (CMS) missionaries in China. They (Robert Warren Stewart and Louisa) were both murdered in China in 1895, together with two of the infant children. They were killed by a group who were opposed to foreign missionaries.  Herbert Stewart aged 6 and Hilda aged only 1 were also killed. Evan (aged 3) and his sister Mildred (aged 13) were rescued from their burning home by their plucky sister Kathleen L Stewart who at that time was aged 11. The older children, Arthur, Philip and James were away at school in England at the time.  The plaque below in St Paul's Church adjacent to Bishops House commemorates their tragic death.

A plaque in St Paul's Church commemorating the tragic murder of Robert & Louisa Stewart
The plucky sister who rescued her siblings went on to marry Rev. Ernest William Lunn Martin  who was Warden and Chaplain of St Stephen's College Stanley.

In John Stericker's book about his experiences in Stanley Internment Camp - "A tear for the dragon", he recounts how "Mr and Mrs Martin were arrested on Christmas morning. They were tied up and placed in a small room where they were molested throughout the day, being continually struck with the butts of rifles on the head, face and legs, and rendered almost unconscious. At nightfall they were thrust into another small room in which there were four British soldiers and eight Indians. They were tightly bound and left for 36 hours  without food and water and were then released". (2)

During the fighting Marjorie Grindley describes how the bodies were piling up at Tweed Bay Hospital and she recalls Rev. Martin digging graves and burying them. (3)
Gerard Heath Lander one time Bishop of Hong Kong and Headmaster of St Paul's College from 1907 to 1920, married firstly to Amy Fletcher (1858-1902) it was the two daughters of this union that married Arthur and Evan Stewart. After Amy died Gerrard Lander married in 1904 to Margaret L Smith (1879-1977). Their union produced three children; one of whom John Gerrard Lander (1907-1941) went on to become an Olympic oarsman. He was working for Asia Petroleum Corporation in HK whilst his wife and child were in the Philippines. John Lander was a member of No 1 Battery HKVDC and was involved in the close quarter fighting at Stanley and was killed in action in December 1941.  His wife (Betty Lander) and son (Gerry Lander) were interned in Santa Tomas Camp in the Philippines. I had the pleasure to meet Gerry Lander in November 2012  on a visit to the Prison and the grounds of St Stephens College. He recalls being liberated by a flying column of US troops as they blasted their way into the Camp to liberate the internees. Gerry's grandmother Margaret L. Smith also had a strong Hong Kong connection as she was the sister of NL Smith who was formerly Colonial Secretary and Acting Governor. He returned with his daughter Rachel on SS Ulysses which left Hong Kong the day before war broke out, was bombed and straffed by Japanese aircraft and finally sunk by a U-boat off the Carolinas (see my post on SS Ulysses). 


Sources:  (1) "The Bank Note that never was" by Francis Braun 

                (2) "A tear for the dragon" by John Stericker

                (3)  Taped interview with Marjorie Grindley wife of prison officer and internee at Stanley. 

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Shark Attack at Tweed Bay - Sept. 1945

The photograph taken today, and depicted below, shows the grave of Police Sgt Herbert Jackson in Stanley Military Cemetery. The tragedy is that having survived the war and the period of internment - he died in a savage shark attack whilst swimming at Tweed Bay beach adjacent to the civilian internment camp where he had been confined since January 1942.

He was, by all accounts, a popular police officer aged 32 at time of his death. Before the war he had worked in the Fingerprint Dept. He was originally scheduled to have been repatriated on 22 September on the British Aircraft Carrier HMS Smiter.  His passage was delayed, and although free he was still resident at Stanley Internment Camp which was increasingly deserted as internees left to man essential services in town or were repatriated on troop ships, hospital ships and fighting ships of the Royal Navy.
   On Sunday afternoon, 23 Serptember 1945, he decided to go swimming at Tweed Bay Beach this popular pre-war swimming beach had been opened by the Japanese for internees to use during the summer months. A few others were on the beach enjoying the afternoon sunshine. Herbert Jackson was swimming near the rocks close to the beach.
   The China Mail for Monday 24 September, describes how the peaceful afternoon was shattered by a cry of terror, as a huge shark savaged him, the sea all around him turning red as his life blood drained away. He was dragged ashore where he died from shock and loss of blood.
   Amongst those on the beach that day were Captain Arthur Braude of the Hong Kong Volunteers. He had been recently released from Military POW Camp. His wife Irene had been an internee at Stanley. She was a trained nurse and had commanded the Nursing Detachment of the  Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corp. Captain Braude rushed into the water, and with others that were on the beach,  helped pull Herbert to the shore.
   John Karsten Stanton, a fifteen-year-old boy,  who with his family had been interned for three-and-a-half years at Stanley, happened to be on the beach that afternoon with friends. In his memories he writes:
We heard a cry for help. We all jumped in and swam to the rock and splashed to frighten the shark off. We brought him back to the beach covered in blood, his left buttock missing.
He was carried up to the nearby Tweed Bay Hospital but he was already dead by the time they arrived. Geoff Emerson, historian and author of Hong Kong  Internment, 1942-1945 writes on Stanley Email   Group  that 'some forty years ago when I was interviewing former Stanley internees, Mrs Irene Braude told me she was on the beach the day Sgt Jackson  was attacked by the shark and helped to pull him out of the water.'  Mrs Braude immediately provided first aid but there was little that could be done and the China Mail reports (see below)  that Herbert died within minutes of being dragged ashore. The shark had virtually severed his left leg and ripped his upper leg and buttock off causing huge loss of blood.

So tragic to have survived the privations of Stanley internment camp only to be killed so violently and unexpectedly.


Saturday, 3 August 2013

Michael Koodiaroff - HKVDC

During World War 2 in Hong Kong,  the POW Camps at North Point, Shamshuipo and Argyle Street were characterized by appalling conditions. The military internees were on starvation rations and many developed illnesses associated with malnutrition. Epidemics of dysentery and diphtheria claimed many lives. The Japanese would not allow sufficient medicines into the camp and for most, it was hard just trying to stay alive.
   The civilian internment camp at Stanley was also a harsh environment and the internees also suffered from malnutrition and other illnesses. The rough-hewn graves of internees at Stanley Military Cemetery testify to the difficult conditions there but given a choice one would rather be in a civilian internment camp than a military POW camp.
   A number of civilians were unlucky enough to end up in military POW camps, whilst several volunteers and regular soldiers were lucky enough to end up in Stanley Civilian Internment Camp. One of these was Michael Alex Koodiaroff who had just turned forty and worked as a Hotel Assistant at the Peninsula Hotel. He was married to  Elizabeth and they had one child, a boy, also named Michael, of seven years.
   Michael had joined the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corp (HKVDC) in July 1939. He was a member of the Armoured Car Platoon commanded by Lt Mike Carruthers,  a unit that was in the thick of the action in the short and bloody battle which commenced in Hong Kong with the Japanese invasion on 8 December 1941.
   He was patrolling Castle Peak Road,  guarding the left flank of the Royal Scots positions on the Gin Drinkers Line. In the early hours of Thursday 11 December, the driver of their armoured car swerved to avoid a large coil of barbed wire across the road and the vehicle ended up overturning into a ditch. Michael's left foot was crushed by ammunition boxes. Their armoured car was out of action and they were picked up together with their machine guns and ammunition by a passing army lorry. Despite the injury to his foot he carried on until Christmas Day - when the British surrendered,  at which time he was admitted to the War Memorial Hospital on the Peak where he remained until 4 January 1942.

Now let's pick up the story direct from Michael Koodiaroff:
During the period of the war  I had lost contact with my wife and son but had heard that they were probably evacuated to May Road together with other wives and children (of HKVDC members). On 4 January I asked the Sister at the hospital if I could visit my wife and son. I left the hospital and on the way met a car driven by a Chinese and asked the driver if he could take me to May Road. 1
However, they were stopped by a Japanese military patrol.
One of the Japanese soldiers saw me in uniform and began to speak to me in Japanese. I did not understand him, he became angry and slapped my face several times. He took me to the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank building where I was taken in front of a Japanese officer and through his interpreter I explained who I was and my reason for driving in the car. I was placed under arrest  and detained in the Guard Room until the following morning, 5 January,  when the Japanese interpreter told me to go with a Chinese detective and collect my family and report at the Murray Parade Ground. 1 
Murray Parade Ground, on Garden Road, was where British, American and Dutch (enemy) civilians had been ordered to report for internment.
When I returned to Murray Parade Ground with my family, I again saw the same Japanese interpreter. 1
Koodiaroff explained that he was a Hong Kong Volunteer and should be interned with the troops.
He (the interpreter)  said it makes no difference which camp you go to so long as you are interned. With a crowd of about 400 people, we were then taken to the Tai Koon Hotel. 1 
The Tai Koon Hotel was one of a series of third-rate, cheap hotels and brothels on the waterfront where European internees were held until 21 January 1942 when they were transferred to Stanley Camp. Koodiaroff and his family remained in Stanley until liberation in August 1945.
I travelled with my family on the SS Empress of Australia as far as Colombo and then we embarked on the SS Madura for Australia, arriving in Sydney on 10 November 1945.

SS Empress of Australia
SS Madura


Addendum 1:
A google search shows Michael's son also Michael (born 11 Dec. 1934) joined the Royal Australian Navy in January 1953

Addendum 2:
Henry Ching writes in response to this blog which was posted on Hong Kong local history site www:gwulo.com 
"Thanks for the info on Koodiaroff’s route from the hospital to Stanley.  It includes some aspects that I was not aware of – he was lucky not to have been shot when he was picked up in uniform. The little I knew I got from his son we were together in the Red Cross camp at St Mary’s, west of Sydney, in late 1945.
 There were at least 80 Volunteers interned in Stanley (not counting the nurses), more than half of whom were in the Stanley Platoon, and about 15 were in the so-called Hughes Group at the North Point power station.  Generally speaking, these tended to be late recruits who joined up during or just prior to the battle and who had no uniforms, which is probably why they were treated as civilians.


HKVDC Files held in Hong Kong Public Records Office

1  Quotes are taken from a memo written by Michael Koodiaroff in the above files

Friday, 2 August 2013

Japanese assault craft moving up - Dec. 1941

Japanese Assault Craft moving through Tai Po

This picture was posted on the Facebook Battle of Hong Kong'site by Wilfred Pau. I have never seen it before. I believe it was taken from a book.  It's a great photograph showing Japanese assault craft being trucked through the market town of Tai Po towards Kowloon to be used by the Japanese Imperial Army,  still flushed with success in taking Kowloon in a week, to cross the narrows and bring destruction and devastation to the Island of Hong Kong.

Looking closely we can see a Japanese soldier on horseback. They brought with them horses and mules. Judging by the ears this is probably a mule. You can see on the hill,  a colonial style house peeping out of the tree-line. At street level, one can see a truckload of soldiers and a Chinese civilian walking by.
   There is a sense of menace as the boats pass through the town heading to the crossing point, and thence across the narrows for the invasion of the Island, which took place on the night of 18 December 1941. A week later on 25 December Hong Kong surrendered almost one hundred years after  Hong Kong had been granted to Great Britain following the First Opium War - but that's another story !




Photo:              Posting on Facebook site "Battle of Hong Kong" by Wilfred Pau