Friday 8 November 2013

Harold Thomas Matches - Police Officer in Hong Kong 1935-1948

Harold Thomas Matches was born in Gibraltar on 22 August 1911. At that time his father was working in the Royal Naval Dockyard in Gibraltar. A few years later the family returned to UK and Harold's father was then working at the Royal Naval dockyard at Rosyth in Scotland. We do not know for sure but it's possible that Harold worked there for some years after finishing school, but what we do know is that at the age of twenty-four he went East and joined the Hong Kong Police Force on 30th August 1935, with service number A87.

After completing his training Harold joined the Water Police. A photograph dated January 1937 on local history site  posted by Christine Kirkham shows Harold Matches with others from the class of 1935 who had also joined this branch of the service.

Recruits to Water Police (Source: posted by Christine Kirkham on
                          Rear Row:  Bert Terrett  -  Vic Mackenzie  -  Rees North  -  Harold Matches

                          Front Row: John Michie  -  Bill Campbell  -  Bert Macvey

Six years after Harold arrived in Hong Kong war broke out in the Pacific and the Japanese Army invaded the British Crown colony of Hong Kong on Monday 8th December 1941 after almost exactly one hundred years of British rule. When war broke out Harold was still serving in the Water Police. I am not sure of his movements and deployments during the period of hostilities but we know from the Police War Diary that police launches such as Police Launch No. 1 shown below were involved in evacuating citizens from outlying islands such as Peng Chau and Cheung Chau and from outlying stations like Tai O in Lantau.

Police Launch No 1  
The police launches were also involved in the evacuation of Kowloon, and as the launches carried out their duties around the harbour and outlying islands in the first week of the war, they were frequently dive-bombed and strafed by Japanese aircraft. The Coxswain of Police Launch No 5 was wounded by shrapnel while undertaking duties in the harbour.

The Japanese landed on the Island of Hong Kong during the night of 18th December. A week later after fierce fighting on the Island, the British surrendered. By this time most police, and I assume Harold, had congregated in the Gloucester Hotel which served as Police Headquarters. In early January most of the British, American and Dutch civilians were herded into cheap and squalid hotels in the Western District close to the waterfront. Many of these had been used as brothels. The internees were crowded into small cubicles, often sharing with complete strangers and with no segregation between men and women. Harold and his police colleagues were taken on 6th January 1942 from the Gloucester Hotel to the Luk Hoi Tung Hotel. Police Officer George Wright-Nooth in his book entitled "Prisoner of the Turnip Heads" describes the place of their initial incarceration:

"The Luk Hoi Tong was a seedy, fourth-rate establishment near the waterfront catering for travelling traders or seamen. It was one of many similar hotels in the area which were the hangouts of pimps and prostitutes. About 250 of us were packed into its forty-odd rooms (meant for two each). Once everybody had been pushed in, the iron grill door at its dingy entrance was slammed shut and locked. A solitary sentry sat on a stool outside.

Food, together with extreme boredom coupled with lack of exercise, was our main pre-occupation. Two meals a day of a bowl of rice with a few chicken's feet or three or four lumps of rotten meat was all we got. In the coming months, we were to look back on the size of these meals with hungry relish."

On 21st January most "enemy civilians" were moved to Stanley Internment Camp and the police followed two days later on 23rd January 1942. Harold spent the remainder of the war at Stanley Camp where medicine and food were scarce and many suffered ill health as a result of the privations of what was effectively a Japanese concentration camp.

The Japanese surrendered in August 1945 and the emaciated prisoners of war were released. Harold returned to England following a period of recuperation in Australia. He married in 1946 and returned to Hong Kong in 1947 to resume his police career. In 1949 he resigned from the police and emigrated to Canada, later returning to the UK where he worked in the Security Division at the Atomic Energy Authority at Seascale on the Cumbrian coast.

As I write this story about Harold, his uniform jacket, his police whistle and his photo albums and other documents are close at hand, entrusted to me by his son and daughter who would like to see these documents and artefacts preserved and made accessible for those interested, be they historians, researchers, or students.

Harold passed away in 1992, his wife Winifred passed away more recently in 2012. His son and daughter then discovered a number of photographs, police reports and other documents which are now known as the "Harold Thomas Matches Collection" and will soon be donated to suitable archives in Hong Kong where this story begins.

Harold's pre-war winter uniform tunic near me as I write
The uniform is a standard-issue pre-war winter tunic with high collar with A87 in chrome, denoting his service number. "A" meaning European contingent, this number was allocated to an officer on enlistment and stayed with him until his promotion to Sub-Inspector, when the overt display of numerals ceased. Five large chrome buttons to the front bearing the King's crown and the letters GRI  standing for George Rex Imperator - George, King and Emperor. Missing from the uniform is the three chevrons denoting the rank of Sgt.  This high collar style winter tunic was superseded post-war when all European Lance/Sergeants were re-graded to Sub Inspector, with open collar, white shirt and black tie.

Harold's Police Whistle
The whistle is a variant of the standard "Metropolitan" model of police whistle made by Hudson of Birmingham since Victorian times. The whistle which still works was worn on the tunic attached by a chain as in the photograph below which shows Harold Matches in summer white uniform as a pre-war Lance Sgt.

Wearing Summer White Uniform with Peaked Cap

Summer White Uniform with "Bombay Bowler"

The white summer uniform was not continued after the war when whites were reserved for very senior officers in full dress (ceremonial). The hat was known as the Bombay Bowler with the Police Force badge. He wears a black leather revolver belt, with snake belt buckle with a black lanyard to the revolver. The revolver was most likely a 0.38 calibre, it was carried loaded but with no additional ammunition. There is a proficiency badge on the lower right tunic sleeve. Possibly 'LG' denoting Lewis Gunner.

The photograph below from Harold's Album shows Harold at the Police Training School with other recruits which I presume must be either 1935 the year he joined HKP or 1936 on completion of training. 

Police Training School
Interestingly I saw the same photograph on local history web site The photograph was posted by Christine Kirkham and she listed the police officers as follows :

Back Row (Standing Left to Right as viewed)

Reg Jenner, John Michie, HW Jackson, Bert McVey, Harold Matches, Bert Terrett, Jock Campbell, Stan Innes, George Dennis, Vic Mackenzie, William Jones
Front Row (Seated Left to Right as viewed)
Dick Shaw, Rees North, Cliff Pope, Jackie Fell (Drill Instructor), Frank Shaftain (Principal PTS), Lofty Morten (Chief Instructor), Henry Tyler, Wally Gowans, Bill Morrison, E. Davis, John Willis.
In the back row, third from left is Sgt. H.W. Jackson who met a tragic death only weeks after liberation. He was swimming at Tweed Bay Beach which the internees had been allowed to use under guard during the summer months. Sgt. Jackson had endured three and a half years in a prison camp and was waiting for repatriation. Tragedy struck when he was attacked by a shark, he was dragged from the water with serious injuries but he died shortly after from shock and loss of blood.

At Stanley Camp, Harold shared a room in the so-called Indian Quarters (previously occupied by Indian Wardens from Stanley Gaol and their families) with police colleagues Hugh Goldie and Henry Tyler.

This photograph below of Stanley Camp from the HTM albums shows a low building in the centre which was the Mosque used by Muslim prison wardens, to the right of which we can just make out the Indian Quarters where Harold stayed. Immediately in front, we can see gardens for growing vegetables and railings with washing left out to dry. Centre-left is the Prison Officers Club and to the right of which is the Dutch Quarters. We can also make out St Stephens College in the centre,  above which we can see the outline of Stanley View.

Stanley Internment Camp
The next photograph from HTM collection shows internees waiting to collect their meagre food rations. The building looks like one of the Indian Quarters where most internees were crowded in with several to a room, often complete strangers, men sharing with women and children with their parents and other adults. After the repatriation of the American nationals in July 1942 and the Canadian nationals in September 1943, the overcrowded conditions improved somewhat.

Internees queue for meagre food rations
A view of Stanley Cemetery

Post Card written by Harold to his father from Stanley Camp
Post card addressed to his father Robert Matches

Red Cross Air Letter from Harold's brother Angus in Australia
Temporary passport issued to HTM in Camp
Emaciated internees at Tweed Bay Hospital Stanley Camp
Raising the flags on liberation at Stanley Camp
The same scene but an earlier shot while internees were still arriving
The Navy's here - armed sailors from HMS Venerable escorting Japanese POWS into internment
Harold would have been repatriated directly to the UK, but he asked if he could be repatriated by way of Australia where he stayed with his brother Angus and his wife Wirra and their son Bob then living in Adelaide. He sailed to Sydney on the Fleet Aircraft Carrier HMS Striker and from there was flown to Adelaide.

HMS Striker
One of the family (Bob Matches) in Australia recalls Harold's arrival. "I have a clear memory of Harold's arrival in Adelaide. I was 9 or 10 at the time. He was brought from HK to Sydney on HMS Striker. I remember the name of the ship because there were the inevitable jokes about Matches striking a light, etc. He was flown from Sydney to Parafield Aerodrome some miles out of Adelaide. The Red Cross provided a car and driver to take Angus, Wirra and myself to Parafield to collect him. As we got out of the car we saw a grey, gaunt figure standing by a hanger. "There's Harold," Dad said. He had only one canvas hold-all with him that day. A trunk of his belongings arrived sometime later. I am not sure how he filled in his days in Adelaide except that he borrowed a bike from someone and rode it all over town, getting to know the place". Some months later Harold departed Australia heading for England to see his family. Bob recalls that "he was on a ship between Adelaide and Fremantle (Perth WA) on his way to England when news came through to Angus about the death of his father (our grandfather Bob Matches). Angus cabled this on and it was waiting for Harold when he got to Fremantle. Tragic timing after all that he had been through”.
However, let us retrace our steps and go back to war-torn Hong Kong. After liberation, the Police, at least those fit enough, returned to their duties prior to repatriation. The relieving force included men of the RAF Regiment and Harold must have worked closely with them as we see in the slightly faded photograph below.

Harold standing second from right with side-arm and with RAF personnel
Harold made friends with a young Cumbrian member of the RAF by the name of Eric Kennaugh. He is seen standing third from right. (Identification courtesy of his granddaughter Joanne Kennaugh). He had just got married to a Miss Kathleen Wright and one of the bridesmaids happened to be Miss Winnifred Lewis of Maryport, Cumbria. Little did she know then that she was destined to become Harold's wife and move to the other side of the world.

Eric showed Harold the wedding photographs and Harold was immediately captivated by the young bridesmaid. He obtained her address and wrote to her and got no reply. He wrote a second time but again no reply. However, where others might have given up, Harold persevered and wrote a third time, which brought a reply. The first two letters had somehow not reached their destination.

While Harold was recuperating in Australia they corresponded and love blossomed and they married in September 1946. Whilst incarcerated in Stanley Harold, and his roommates became firm friends,. they were Hugh Goldie, Henry Tyler and George Moss., and so it was only fitting that Hugh Goldie was Best Man and Tyler and Moss were Groomsmen at the wedding in Maryport.

Harold marries Winifred in Sept. 1946 with Hugh Goldie as Best Man

Not long after the wedding Harold and his bride sailed for Hong Kong on the Strathmore.

SS  Strathmore
Harold resumed his duties with the Hong Kong Police working as a detective with the Criminal Investigation Dept. ( CID) Kowloon City where he was in charge of a team of detectives.

Harold Matches with his Chinese detectives
Farewell for Chief Inspector Mottram
 Charles Mottram had been Harold's boss - he had also been in Stanley Camp during the war.

Police ID Card
Original Pre-War Police ID Card (must have survived internment)
Harold as Head of CID in Kowloon City was closely involved in a high profile murder case of one Lytton Bevis Wood a partner in Deacon & Co (a well-known trading firm in Hong Kong) and the attempted murder of George Ronald Ross also a partner in that firm. They were set upon whilst out walking in the Kowloon Hills near Lion Rock.

At the scene of the murder
The photograph above shows Supt. Charles Mottram and DCI Louis Whant at the scene of the murder.

Harold left the HK Police in 1949 eventually returning to England where they had two children, Ian and Jennifer, to whom I am most grateful for all the photographs and information about Harold's police career and experiences in Hong Kong.

This was the story of a young man who went out East joined the Hong Kong Police, then found himself caught up in a short but brutal war, then interned in a Japanese concentration camp, he survived the starvation rations and the lack of medicine. On liberation in August/September 1945, he went back to his police duties although weakened from the years spent in a prison camp. Here he found romance through a photograph, he married the lady in the photograph in 1946 after having been repatriated back home to England via Australia. After the war, he returned to Hong Kong with his bride to resume his career with the Hong Kong Police Force with whom he served until 1949.

These fascinating letters, photos, reports and items of uniform were donated to Hong Kong University  Special Collections Library.

Old Hong Kong
The Harold Matches Collection                           Courtesy of Ian and Jennifer Matches

 List of names (Police Training School)         (Posting by Christine Kirkham)

Photograph and names (Water Police)           (Posting by Christine Kirkham)

Tuesday 5 November 2013

"Vanla" - the story of a boat - December 1941

This is the story of a boat.  A fine looking cabin cruiser named Vanla with three portholes on each side. She was built in Hong Kong in 1936 equipped with a small cabin forward, a saloon amidships, a small galley and a cockpit aft.  She was a typical 1930s motor cruiser with the graceful lines of that period.

Vanla lying at anchor
The next picture shows her moored off a beach with matshed bathing huts and bathing bungalows along the beach.  We can make out people swimming.  The setting is most likely one of the bathing beaches along Castle Peak Road where the owner and his wife had a matshed.  There is an air of afternoon tranquility, but impending doom, as both photographs were taken in July 1941  just months before Hong Kong was invaded and the Pacific War began.

Vanla moored at a bathing beach (most likely Castle Peak Road)
I discovered these photos in files relating to requisition of ships and boats by the Royal Navy. I found that the owner was Felix George Hill and he was seeking compensation from the Navy sometime after the war in 1947. On the back of one of the photos he jotted down in very neat handwriting his name and address.

Felix George Hill was a Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy. I found out a bit about him from his accompanying letter and a search of revealed that he was born 10 January 1895 at Torpoint in Cornwall. He married Eliza Marianne Frost (1895-1977) from St Germans, Cornwall. They had a daughter Marianne Hill (1924-2006) who married Peter Scott Bentley (1924-2010).
   Felix Hill joined the Royal Navy on 9 June 1913 at the age of eighteen. He joined as a Writer and served in the Royal Navy for thirty-three years until he was discharged on  7 July 1946. He first moved to Hong Kong with the Navy in January 1931 and he was in Hong Kong when the war began . He was incarcerated in the notorious Sham Shui Po POW Camp where many died from malnutrition and disease. He suffered from the lack of food and lack of medicine but he survived. He must have been in very poor physical condition on liberation in 1945 as we know he was invalided out of Hong Kong to Australia on HM Hospital Ship Oxfordshire which arrived in Sydney in September 1945.

HMHS Oxfordshire in Sydney Harbour
In Sydney he was hospitalized at the RN Hospital at Herne Bay but he was soon back in Hong Kong. He returned to war torn Hong Kong in February 1946 and set about looking for his boat Vanla.
   Vanla is an unusual name and I wonder why it was so called. It was built for Commander C. D. Arbuthnot, RN in 1936 when he was Commander of HMS Tamar which was the HQ ship of the Royal Navy and was scuttled early in the war. We know that Chief Petty Officer (CPO)  Felix Hill acquired the boat in March 1938 when Commander Arbuthnot returned to England.
   Ever since I first arrived in Hong Kong, junking has always been a very popular weekend activity. Felix and his wife Eliza entertained friends on fishing trips and picnics parties to bathing beaches. I believe that Eliza and her daughter Marianne Hill would have been evacuated with most other women and children (except those in essential services like nursing) in June 1940 and mostly they went to Australia. When war broke out on 8 December 1941, Felix had stored the Vanla with supplies. 
I stored and provisioned Vanla to capacity, with sufficient necessities to last four men for at least two months. I intended Vanla to be my means of escape from the Japanese when Hong Kong surrendered.
On Tuesday 9 December Vanla was moved (with appropriate permissions) from Victoria Harbour to Aberdeen Harbour together with a tug and two naval lighters. A short while later on Friday 12 December Vanla was requisitioned by the Royal Navy.  Many merchant ships, launches and private motor boats had been requisitioned and put to use by the military. A naval crew took over Vanla replacing the Chinese coxswain and 'boy' on board who had been employed by Felix Hill.
   Felix writes Vanla was used extensively between Aberdeen Naval Base and Repulse Bay during the Battle for Hong Kong, and I last saw her on 20 December 1941 in a badly battered condition, tied up to a pier in Aberdeen, with about two feet of water in her,  and her engine flooded. During my three years and eight months as a prisoner of war,  I heard that Vanla had been put out of action by a bomb blast and enemy gunfire. On my return to Hong Kong in February 1946, I made enquiries as to Vanla's fate, but could obtain no definite information.
   One letter on the file is addressed to Felix Hill as Manager of the China Fleet Club. I don't know if this role was something he did whilst in the Royal Navy or whether this was after he retired in 1946. Nor do I know when he left Hong Kong assuming that he eventually left for his native Cornwall. I was able to contact Felix Hill's grandson who had childhood memories of his grandfather who he referred to as Felix Geo Hill. He recalls that Felix worked for some period at San Miguel Brewery as well as being an official at the China Fleet Club and the Happy Valley Race Course. He also recalls being told that his grandfather had been a POW in both WW1 and WW2.
   As for Vanla  I suspect to this day she may be lying in the murky depths under Aberdeen Harbour. I can see how Felix loved that boat - I suspect he loved Hong Kong as well and the Royal Navy with whom he served for so many years, and since this started as the story of a boat I will end this story with that evocative photograph of Vanla in days gone by.



While researching at the National Archives in Kew, London -  I found the file with the photographs of Vanla and the letter to the naval authorities who had requisitioned the much loved boat during wartime.  For some reason the story and the photos struck a chord within me and I wrote the post about the boat with the unusual name. It was some ten years ago that I published the story on my blog. I never found out why it was called Vanla .......until recently when I received a message on the blog and a separate email from Tim Oxley. It was his grandfather, Commander Clive D. Arbuthnot, who commisioned the consruction of the cabin cruiser. He named the boat after his daughter  whose name was Vanla. The daughter's name was an anagram of the word 'naval' .........he being a distinguished naval officer who loved the service. Sadly Vanla passed away in March this year. 


Photos of Vanla and
information about her owner:          Files at National Archives ADM 1/21187

Information about family
of Felix Hill:                                    www.

Photograph of HMHS

Information from family of Felix Hill :               Courtesy David Bentley

Information about Clive Arbuthnot and family:  Courtesy Tim Oxley