Friday 18 April 2014

Mount Davis Hong Kong - RSM Ford who fought there in WW2 and Leontine Ellis who passed away whilst incarcerated in Stanley Camp Hong Kong.

In the serene and peaceful Military Cemetery at Stanley lies the graves of the many internees who died  whilst incarcerated at Stanley Internment Camp during WW2. Most of these graves still have the roughly hewn granite blocks that were placed there as tombstones back in those dark days. The three granite blocks in the photograph below mark the spot where fourteen civilian internees were buried who died in a US air raid when a bomb tragically and accidentally landed near a bungalow in which civilians had been interned.

Fourteen internees died in an air raid - January 16th 1945

 Just as tragically is the death of Sgt HW Jackson of the Hong Kong Police, who having survived three and half years in a Japanese concentration camp where food was barely sufficient to sustain life and where medicine was practically non existent, was to die just weeks after the war had ended, whilst waiting repatriation back to home and family in UK. He died whilst swimming at Tweed Bay Beach after having been attacked and badly mauled by a shark. He had been dragged up on to the beach by other internees on that hitherto peaceful and sunny afternoon,  only to die from shock and loss of blood.

Died following a shark attack at Tweed Bay Beach 

Amongst these graves is that of another internee from a prominent Jewish family in Hong Kong. The granite block has been replaced by a modern style grave made of marble - probably in the years immediately following the war.

Leontine Ellis who died whilst incarcerated at Stanley Camp

Miss Leontine Ellis died of cancer in August 1942 only 6 months after the Camp opened.  A look at the Stanley Camp Log held by the Imperial War Museum in London shows the following Ellis surnames :

Name                                 Occupation               Date of Birth            Billet
Charles Oswald Ellis          Cable Censor              15 July 1893          Block 3, Rm 11
Frederick Ellis                    Retired Broker
                                           (Ellis & Edgar)          29 Aug 1885         Block 10, Rm 19
Grace Ellis  (Miss)             Cafe Owner,
                                          (Sister of Fred Ellis)   12 Dec  1895         Block 10, Rm 19
Sophie Ellis (Miss)             Cafe Owner,
                                          (Sister of Fred Ellis)    28 Oct. 1897        Block 10, Rm 19

Leontine Ellis (Miss)          Hotel Proprietress             Age 49
                                                                             (Died 17/8/42)     Block 10, Rm 19

Maud L Ellis (Mrs)            Wife of F. M. Ellis
                                          (HKVDC POW)               unclear              Block  5, Rm 5
Robert Rudolf Ellis           Police Sgt (A149)           18 June 1902        Block 12, Rm 34

From this we can surmise that Frederick Ellis had three unmarried sisters being Grace, Sophie and Leontine all of whom were in business. Fred Ellis a retired stock broker shared a room with his three sisters in Stanley Camp. A search of billeting information shows that no other internees were in that room.

I can not be sure if any family relationship exists between Charles Oswald  Ellis, Maude Ellis who was married to Felix Morris Ellis a soldier in the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC) and Rober Rudolf Ellis who served in the Hong Kong Police.

We know that all three Ellis sisters were members of the Nursing Detachment (N.D.) of the HKVDC.  Many women joined the volunteer nursing services to avoid compulsory evacuation of women and children in 1940. The evacuation was a sore point for many wives and husbands who wanted to stay together despite the prospect of hostilities with Japan. Those women employed in essential services and nursing were able to avoid the evacuation to Australia that took place in June 1940.

It was reading the war diary of Regimental Sergeant Major Enos Charles Ford that I came across a reference to Miss Leontine Ellis as being the proprietress of the Cathay Hotel where he was staying. I was able to make contact with the family of RSM Ford who told me that he was always known as "Henry" I guess an army nick name for somebody with the surname Ford after the famous Henry Ford.

RSM Ford was with 12th Coast Regiment, 24th Coast Battery of the Royal Artillery. He was stationed at Mount Davis also known as Fort Davis with its powerful 9.2 inch guns. It was a principal target for Japanese warships, artillery and aircraft and was probably the most bombarded place in Hong Kong.

9.2 inch guns

RSM Ford was born on 15th April 1909 at Strattan St Margaret in Wiltshire. He married Edith Rose Dando (1909-1971) in January 1934.  She was always known as Rose. Not long after that they moved to Hong Kong and in June 1940 Rose and her daughter Dorothy were evacuated to Australia in view of impending hostilities with Japan.

The photograph below shows RSM Ford in military attire (seated) celebrating with Rose their silver wedding anniversary.

RSM Ford in uniform seated with Rose

He looks immaculate in his uniform every inch the professional soldier and an uninhibited laugh  and this from man who had come through a war and three and half years in a Japanese concentration camp  where large numbers died from sickness and malnutrition and where brutality was the order of the day.

These are edited extracts from his diary as his words speak better than mine.

Monday 8th December:
"Alexander dashes in to waken me at 8:15 am and to say they are bombing the hell out of Kowloon. The Davis AA (Anti Aircraft guns) section completes the awakening and in pyjamas  I watch Kai Tak Aerodrome being bombed and machine gunned from low altitude".

Tuesday 9th December:

 " In the morning watched shelling and bombing of Stonecutters (Island) and the first ranging rounds on Mt Davis. Seven of us in the shelter and between whistles of shells, smutty stories and general laughter  we count the duds and dispatch Sgt Wright to rescue  bottles of beer for our refreshment before the mess is hit. During a quiet moment  and when the beer is gone we emerge into the sunshine to find Tiffy Way’s car burning merrily from a direct hit. Ironically it had been put in the safest place of all by 0.2 Magazine. Water tanks are punctured and water everywhere. No casualties".

Wednesday 10th December:
"Left the fort during an air-raid to go to Cathay Hotel to pick up some kit. Miss Ellis the proprietress, just out of hospital"  and very worried about the outcome of the war and her hotel and livelihood."Have a meal, tell her to keep cheerful and depart with such kit as I can carry.

 Mt Davis guns did deadly work in Shingmun Redoubt area. Infantry praise our gunnery during this night".

Although the Mount Davis Guns as indeed the Stanley  Guns were facing to seaward which at the time of their construction was the most likely source of attack, they could in fact swivel round to some extent to engage landward targets.

Saturday 13th December: 
"Now that Stonecutters is evacuated Mt Davis seems the principle target on the Island. All day planes  and shells have increased the havoc in the fort. Everybody amazingly cheerful and morale is high".

"F.C. (Fire Command)  post got blown out today with three direct hits  from 240mm. No one killed but Major Merthyr  and Capt Camp  shaken up. Am lucky for should have been on duty  at the time but had to do an earlier turn  because Mr Camp joining us from Stonecutters and Gould taking over battery".

"Vast numbers of invasion craft assembling but no action taken by our gunners. Why ?  Davis and Stanley still continue to pound the New Territories".

Sunday 14th December:

"Unlucky day this .  A direct hit on a magazine at the AA’s position  has put one gun out of action, and killed nine Indians (gunners)".

"No 3 Gun, the pet of the Battery  is out of action from a direct hit on the piece from a 9.65” shell which fell on to the shell pit shield, blew off its base and fizzed like a firework without exploding".

Tuesday 16th December:
"Today  the  Mount has received its bitterest  and most intense bombardment. The plotting rooms and barrack rooms have been blown in and at about 5 o’clock we had to evacuate  under shell fire in parties of five. BSM Barlow and myself established order  in the BPR (Battery Plotting Room) amid smoke and fumes . Our lights are out  and blower plant disabled  and daylight is visible through the roof. This roof was once of a thickness of 15ft of earth and concrete. A shell had penetrated right through this, through a steel door, ripped all the bricks from one wall ploughed through another wall and finished up in the telephone exchange without exploding . Truly a miracle. All our troops are intact  except one Sgt shell shocked  and one gunner wounded.
We evacuate the Mt and repair to Felix  Villas where we are given a days rest and man the guns again  from the next night onwards".

Friday 19th December:
"I am awakened at 6am with the news that the Japs have landed and have reached Mount Butler".
"Eventually I get my breakfast. I manage to scrounge a cup of tea from Lt Wedderburn of the A.A.s  who incidentally is the finest officer on the Mount".

Tuesday 23rd December:
"To town again this afternoon. Having visited Battle HQ  where the panic shows signs of increasing, I decide, in a moment of generosity  to take my escort and driver  to a meal in the Hong Kong Hotel. As soon as this meal is over  we get roped in to arrest armed deserters  from the Rajputs who are sheltering in Air Raid Shelters……...  hand them over to the Military Police".

Wednesday 24th December:
"During the afternoon a force of 50 Gunners from Mt Davis and Jubilee , under D. Clayton and BSM Barlow are sent to Happy Valley for “mopping up” operations. I volunteer for the next party but am indignantly informed by Capt Hammett that I shall be of more value in Counter Battery work than as an infantry leader".

Thursday 25th December:
"Xmas day and I imagine the most memorable one of all time. I begin the day by wishing my family in Australia very heartfelt compliments of the season. The sun is brilliant and a truce is declared until Noon. I set my course for Aberdeen but as soon as I get near Waterfall Bay  a couple of  bombs  and the answering crack of our 4.5’s tells the world that the truce is no longer in operation".

"I locate the Battery ration party  and proceed to the fort where-in I have spent many busy days and happy hours".  I assume this is Aberdeen Island.

"At 2:30 I take my farewell and am rowed back to Hong Kong Island. I walk to Waterfall Bay  and am picked up by a police car. At 3:35 I hear we are going to surrender. This is confirmed at 4pm by Battle HQ.

This is a bitter moment for none ever expected HK  to surrender, and men are crying  as they break their arms  whilst a couple of heavy  detonations  tell us that Charlie Brooks (Master Gunner)  has rendered the two remaining guns of Fort Davis  unserviceable. I can hear  and will hear each Xmas Day, L/Bdr Hooper’s words – “ I cant stand it, I cant stand it, my old man fought all through the last war and he didn’t have to surrender why should I”.

Many of the men are all for fighting on, but where organized resistance has failed, indiscriminate bands cannot succeed in an island so small as this. A message from BHQ  praises the work of the gunners  in general and 24th Bty in particular.

This is ironic as this morning’s message from both the Governor and the GOC gave us an order of  the day to “hold on”.

Major Merthyr  as FC West  and the CRA would not allow Fort Davis  to open up at two minesweepers  at 16,000 yards because they were waiting for bigger stuff. Such dammed nonsense as this within four hours of the surrender".

Friday 26th December:
"We are all of us more than lucky to be alive….. even the people in town have beheld us almost in awe when we have told them we are from the Mount and the Mount itself is the most battered fort in all Hong Kong".

Saturday 27th December:
"The Japs have taken over our old Fort  and inspected our accommodation at Felix Villas. They seem friendly enough  and offer us cigarettes  and pinch our watches and rings if they can.

My box at the Hotel Cathay I know is buried beneath the burnt out ruins of he hotel. The hotel collected 15 shells all to itself one afternoon and was set on fire". 

I tied to find out more about the Hotel Cathay or Cathay Hotel  but have found nothing on it apart from a reference in the diary of S/Sgt O'Toole  of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps who writes in his diary that after being captured  "we were marched  right over Mt Parker......down to Quary Bay near the Taikoo Sugar Factory and along the road to the Ritz in the ball room of which we were stabled. The Ritz is right opposite the Cathay Hotel where Chris  (his wife) and I stayed  for our first week in the colony".

This would put the Cathay Hotel on the North Shore which was heavily shelled before the Japanese landed on this very stretch of waterfront.

From the diary I can see that RSM Ford was a man who called things as they were.  My impression from reading his thoughts is that he was a mans man - a professional soldier who would not suffer fools gladly. I also get the impression he was a brave man - volunteering to fight as infantry and coming through a short and bloody war and a long and difficult captivity.

He was critical of a number of things for example the poor communications and circulation of information. He points out that the Japanese landed on the island  at 10:30pm at night but it was not until the next day that Fort Davis was informed, and that went for many other units too. 

The staff officers fought the battle from the "Battle-box" deep underground. RSM Ford points out that "more could have been achieved if the general staff had fought among its troops" instead of from a deep underground bunker. Brigadier Wallis although a Brigade Commander was often in the front line and therefore had a clear appreciation of the position on the ground in a battle situation which was very fluid, fast moving and changing all the time.

Ford points to the incompetence of some officers, the lack of training of some units, the lack of naval and air units  and the extent of 5th columnist activity. He strongly condemns the misinformation put out about a Chinese Army coming to the rescue. "No power on earth", he writes, "can forgive the general staff for knowingly spreading false reports  of the close proximity of Chinese soldiers. It is the first time in history that British Empire forces  have had to be sustained on lies". I think some of that blame may be due to the HK Government communiques rather than the general staff,  but I know similar feelings were expressed by civilians after the capitulation who felt let down by the  Colonial Government and appalled by the use of misinformation to maintain morale.

I don't know much more about the Ellis Family and hopefully I may learn more from readers of this blog. I understand that Leontina's sisters and brother were repatriated to England in 1945 and that Grace and Sophie returned to Hong Kong in 1947.

A plaque in the Jewish synagogue in Hong Kong lists her name amongst other from that community who wore the King's uniform and died in the battle for Hong Kong

In 1945 RSM Ford returned to England and continued his army career. The initials I.G. after his rank denoting Instructor in Gunnery - he was commissioned as an officer and retired with the rank of Major. He passed away in 1986 aged 77 in Cambridge, England.

This story has been a tribute to a civilian and volunteer nurse in the HKVDC who passed away in internment camp and to a professional soldier whose paths crossed. A soldier who fought in the most heavily bombarded fort in Hong Kong and who came through the horrors of Japanese POW Camps and made it home.


Diary of RSM Ford:              "Memos of the Battle of Hong Kong" by RSM E.C. Ford taken from
                                                HKLB 940.547252 E58 Hong Kong University - Special Collections

Photograph of RSM Ford
and additional information:     Courtesy of the RSM Ford's family (Barbara Durbin)

Photograph of plaque:             Taken from Jewish Synagogue Hong Kong Web Site

List of internees:                      Camp Log held at Imperial War Museum, London.