Sunday, 29 January 2017

Captain Ian Blair, 2/14th Punjab Regt. - Pte Patrick Fallon, HKVDC - Battlefield Finds (Monthly Blog January 2017)

Captain Ian James Blair 2nd Battalion 14th Punjab Regiment

In early January I was  in contact with Mark Burch whose grandfather Captain Ian James Blair served with 2nd Battalion 14th Punjab Regiment in the Battle for Hong Kong. The photograph below shows Captain Blair after liberation with a captured Japanese military sword.

Captain Ian Blair (Courtesy Mark Burch)
Ian Blair was born in Gisborne, New Zealand on 5th May 1915. As a young man he made his way to British East India, where in 1937, he was employed by one of the  sugar plantation companies operating near Chakia, in Bihar State. He joined the local Planters Light Horse militia and was later called up to serve in the British Indian Army.

In March 1938, at the age of twenty-three, he was commissioned into the Central India Horse (21st King George V's Own Horse), a regular British Indian Army cavalry regiment. He later transferred to the 2nd Battalion of the 14th Punjab Regiment. In October 1940, his battalion, which in 1941 was commanded by Lt-Col Gerald Kidd, was sent to Hong Kong.

When the Pacific war started in December 1941, Ian Blair was serving as a Captain in 'C' Coy which was commanded  by Major George Gray. 'C' Coy were designated as Forward Troops and were based at Fan Ling to watch over the frontier also referred to as the "outer line." Their role when war started was to guard the Royal Engineers demolitions teams who were carrying out demolitions at the frontier and on roads, railways, cuttings and bridges leading from the frontier towards Kowloon and the "inner line" of defence known as the Gin Drinkers Line. These demolitions were intended to slow the Japanese advance and buy time on the mainland to facilitate the destruction of infrastructure, oil facilities, ports and factories in Kowloon. In addition to guarding the demolition teams 'C' Coy were to harass, disrupt and slow the enemy. Captain Blair's company of Punjabis were the first British troops to go into action against Japanese ground forces. One battalion of Colonel Tanaka's 229th Infantry Regiment advanced from the frontier, at Sha Tao Kok, towards Fan Ling but decided to take a short cut to Tai Po by way of hill tracks through the Sha Lo Tung Hills.

"Gray alerted his rear guard commander, Captain Ian Blair. Quickly Blair sited every available machine gun to bear upon the thin, rocky trail. Still oblivious, the Japanese marched boldly into range of Blair's guns. Nearer and nearer they approached, while Blair waited. The target area filled with men and animals [mules]. Finally he gave the order: Fire ! For two minutes every rifle and Bren gun in 'C' Company poured fire into the trapped Japanese column.............Slowly the dust and din of fire abated. The air filled with the cheers of the Punjabis. They'd drawn first blood."  (Season of Storms Robert L Gandt (1982) p.52).

The Forward Troops achieved their objective of guarding and facilitating the demolitions and engaging the advancing Japanese troops. At Tai Po it was one company facing a battalion. Major-General Maltby wrote in his Report on Operations that they had "fulfilled their role admirably, and had inflicted some one hundred casualties to the Japanese at no real cost to themselves."

After the surrender Captain Blair was incarcerated at Sham Shui Po (SSP) Camp from 29th December to 20th April 1942, and at Argyle Street Officers Camp from April 1942 to May 1944 and then back to SSP Camp from 1944 until liberation in August 1945. He was repatriated to New Zealand in very weak condition, but he had survived the fighting and the brutal incarceration and he made it home.

He had joined the Army aged twenty-three, fought in the Battle for Hong Kong aged twenty-six, and after nearly fours years incarceration was released aged thirty, having given most of his twenties to the service of his country. He died aged eighty-three in 1998. The captured sword, which he holds in the photograph,  is now in the proud possession of his grandson, Mark Burch. 

On the battlefields of Hong Kong

In cool weather on Wednesday 11th January I joined history enthusiast Stuart Woods for a trek up towards the Twins, which are shown in the pre-war map below, and are located in the hills behind Stanley. These hills formed a perimeter of defence around East Brigade troops at Stanley. They were defended by Royal Rifles of Canada and HKVDC. The prewar map shows the terrain and hill names and is marked to show the approximate route we took which was most probably the route taken by the Japanese Army up to the Twins before they attacked Stanley Mound.  

Route taken up towards the Twins
We first came across an area of dugouts lower down the trail but high enough to have a commanding view of  both Tai Tam Reservoir and the dam and road up to Tai Tam Gap. At first I thought these might have been Canadian positions, but on second thoughts I now think they were Japanese as the nearest Canadians on the night of 19th December were deployed at Sugar Loaf ('B' Coy Royal Rifles of Canada), Stone Hill and Stanley Mound and the Canadians were deploying from the south, i.e. from (1) Stanley View (junction of Chum Am Kok Road and Island Road), (2) Stanley and (3) Palm Villa (near the current day American Club at Tai Tam). As we proceeded higher up the hillside we found a considerable number of dug-outs and trenches. This was on or close to the Twins, and were most likely Japanese positions. Here we found Japanese bullets and chargers (see below). 

Japanese 6.5 rounds and chargers for loading. 
The presence of large numbers of Japanese troops in this area on 22nd/23rd December 1941 must have been observed as they were fired on by British artillery using anti-personnel (shrapnel) shells. We found evidence of this shelling by finding large sections of shell casing and numerous shot balls, two of which are shown in the photographs above and below. The photograph below also shows the inside of the casing from two of these shells. They were most probably fired by one or both of the two 18-pounder guns  at Stanley belonging to 965-Defence Battery. These would have been in a position to lay down fire in this area.

Courtesy: Stuart Woods
After identification, the above items were left in situ where they were found. Perhaps the most interesting find was a tube of "Kolynos" tooth paste. This was found by Stuart close to one of the dugouts. This was a popular brand in the 1930s. In the enlarged photograph you can still make out the yellow colour and the wording "Scientific Dental Cream."

Courtesy of Stuart Woods

This is what it may have looked like in 1941. It was an American brand although this tube (below) was manufactured in London.  It was manufactured in a number of other countries before the war.

Here's an advertisement for the product probably from 1940/1941.

Sourced from internet
What was it doing around Japanese dugouts? Had these dugouts at some stage been occupied by Canadian troops, had it originally belonged to a member of the HKVDC or Royal Rifles of Canada?  Perhaps purchased in Hong Kong? Perhaps relieved from a captured or dead British or Canadian soldier by a Japanese soldier ? We can only speculate.

Guided battle trail walk for Aberdeen Marina Club 

On Saturday 14th January I took a group of members of the Aberdeen Marina Club on the battle trail  around Wong Nai Chung Gap. We started at the 3.7-inch howitzer battery at Stanley Gap. We went inside one if the several splinter proof shelters used as accommodation for the battery personnel. Then we went up the road to the spot where an ID bracelet was found which belonged to RN rating Jack Siddans. See the story by clicking the link:

Able Seaman John "Jack"

ID bracelet found on what was called Stanley Gap Road 
We then went up the road to the QM stores at Stanley Gap, and the mess hut (also referred to as the "black hole" of HK). We visited the site of the 3.7-inch AA Battery and PB 1 and PB 2 on the western slopes of Jardines Lookout. This was a very brave group as most of them went inside a Japanese tunnel, and crawled through the narrow machine gun apertures at PB 1 and 2 as well as clambouring up the slope to PB 3 at Blacks Link and going inside the PB.

With the AMC group inside PB 1
The inside of the main compartment is badly scarred by grenade fragmentation damage, also visible on the  roof (see photo above).
With the AMC group inside PB 2
This was the first time I had been in PB2. What surprised me was that there was grenade fragmentation damage to the area around the main door and in the area of the commander's observation tower. After the small number of effectives from PB 1 and PB 2 had surrendered on Friday afternoon 19th December, only the dead and non-walking wounded were left at PB 2. The fragmentation damage suggests that after the position had been surrendered the Japanese threw grenades through the main door and down the observation posts before entering and finishing off the wounded.

PB 3 at Black's Link
Machine gun aperture with mounting and swivel at PB 3

Patrick Fallon who served in the HKVDC and was a POW  in Hong Kong and  Japan

An old friend, Tim Gibbs, put me in touch with Tony Fallon who kindly provided me with information about his grandfather Christopher Patrick Fallon and his family which included Tony's  father Patrick Fallon who served in the HKVDC, and was subsequently incarcerated in prisoner of war camps in Hong Kong and Japan.

Patrick Fallon as a POW in Japan (courtesy of Tony Fallon)

Patrick Fallon (seated second from left) (courtesy Tony Fallon)
Tony's grandfather Christopher Fallon was born in Ireland in March 1888. After initially serving with the Royal Irish Constabulary, he joined the Hong Kong Police in November 1912. His Police  No. was 140. During his 21-year career with the Hong Kong Police he was awarded the Merit Medal  in 1919, he was commended by H.E. the Governor in 1928 and by the time he retired in June 1933  he had been commended six times and had reached the rank of Chief Inspector. After retiring from the Hong Kong Police, Christopher Fallon served as a Probation Officer.

He married a Chinese lady and they had four sons PatrickJohn, William and Peter and two daughters Mary and Alice (Alice died at birth). Three of Christopher Fallon's sons (Patrick, John, and Peter) joined the HKVDC. Patrick was the oldest son born in April 1922 and was nineteen-years-old when war started in Hong Kong in December 1941. His youngest brother Peter was only sixteen-years-old, and was the second youngest soldier to serve in the HKVDC during WW2. Patrick joined the Field Ambulance section, and John and Peter served in Field Coy Engineers.

Patrick Fallon recalled "I had another brother (William) who wanted to volunteer, but they would not let him because there were already three of us joining. I should have recommended this to be a film 'Saving Private Fallon.' During the battle for Hong Kong, I was in action only once, exchanging fire across a long valley in darkness when I fired a maximum of five shots. However, I did come near to death when I was visiting my parents during the fighting, walking along the street I heard a loud clanging noise and this piece of smouldering shrapnel from an artillery shell landed right in front of me."  (Source: extract from a speech made by Patrick Fallon at the British Embassy in Tokyo during a visit to Japan in April 2005)

The Royal Engineers together with Field Coy Engineers (HKVDC) were responsible for demolitions at the frontier and on routes leading from the frontier to the Gin Drinkers Line - the defensive perimeter around Kowloon which was defended by the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots, 2/14th Punjab Regiment and 5/7th Rajput Regiment. The demolitions were carried out on road bridges, cuttings and tunnels. Patrick's brothers John and Peter were involved in these demolitions before being withdrawn to the Island.

After the British capitulation, Christopher Fallon was incarcerated at Stanley Internment Camp together with his seventeen-year-old son William and fourteen-year-old daughter Mary. They were billeted in Block 11 which was formerly the Science Block at St Stephen's College. His wife was able to get away to neutral Macau. His three sons serving in the HKVDC were incarcerated in POW Camps initially at Sham Shui Po and later in Japan.

Patrick and his brothers had another brush with death when in September 1942 they were loaded on to the ill-fated Japanese freighter Lisbon Maru to be shipped to Japan to work as slave labourers in dockyards, mines and factories. They were amongst one hundred POWs who were taken off the ship because it was overloaded. The ship was sunk by an American submarine, not realising that it was carrying British POWs as well as Japanese troops, and over 800 British POWs lost their lives as a result.

Patrick and his brothers were sent out to Japan in December 1942, where they worked in a dockyard at Innoshima some thirty miles from Hiroshima. All three brothers-in-arms made it back home having survived the battle and the brutal incarceration in Hong Kong and Japan. In 2005 at the age of eighty-three Patrick Fallon returned to Japan on a reconciliation trip organised by Keiko Holmes.

Keiko was born in Japan in 1948. She married Paul Holmes in 1969 and later returned to London with her British husband and two children. Paul was killed in a plane crash in 1984. Keiko had become a devoted Christian after her marriage. She always recalled the memorial in her home-town of sixteen British POWs who had worked as slave labourers in a nearby copper mine. The memorial   which bore the name of each POW was lovingly and respectfully cared for by local civilians even long after the war. This memory, and in grief for her husband, prompted her to set up a charity that would arrange reconciliation trips for former POWs to Japan and other parts of Asia. Many POWs found it difficult to forgive the Japanese for their brutality and still harboured much resentment for the atrocities, killing, beating and appalling treatment that they were subjected to in Japan and Japanese occupied parts of Asia.  On these trips POWs would sometimes meet their former guards and foremen from the factories and mines where they had been forced to work. Patrick Fallon summed up his thoughts at the time.

"For me I have forgiven but I shall never forget. For others who have been Japanese Prisoners of War it is not so simple and I ask you to respect that as well." (Source: Patrick Fallon's speech at the British Embassy in Tokyo in April 2005)

Courtesy Tony Fallon

Radio Programmes

I participated in two radio programmes which were produced and presented by Annemarie Evans of RTHK. They were broadcast over Christmas and year-end. They focus on the Battle for Wong Nai Chung Gap on 19th December 1941. This was the crucial battle. A lot of the broadcast was recorded on the Wong Nai Chung Battle Trail. The programmes are each about thirty minutes and you can listen to them by clicking the links below and clicking on "Programme." This will take you to RTHK web site then click the "Listen" button.

Part 1

Part 2

On the battlefields of Hong Kong

On 18th January I went for another trek with history enthusiast Stuart Woods on the battlefields around Stanley. We started at a water course leading uphill from near the American Club at Tai Tam. We made our way up this rocky watercourse until it petered out, after which we were forced to crash through the thick vegetation, ascending until we reached Notting Hill. At Notting Hill we found over 30 rounds of spent 303 ammunition which had been fired from units of HKVDC and Royal Rifles Canada who had been sent up from Palm Villa (the home of M.K. Lo located near where the American Club is situated today) to clear the ridge-line Notting Hill-Bridge Hill on 21st December 1941. These troops acted as left-flank guard  for the brigade attack that day by East Infantry Brigade on the Tai Tam X-Roads (1st objective). The  2nd  objective was WNC Gap by way of Gauge Basin and Stanley Gap Road.

On Notting Hill we found over 30 rounds of spent 303 ammunition both Canadian (Royal Rifles of Canada) and British (HKVDC). We also found two mortar bomb caps with writing on ("remove before firing"). It is interesting to discover that at least one 2-inch mortar was deployed on this ridge-line. These weapons were in short supply and likewise ammunition for both the 3-inch and 2-inch mortars. one or two 3-inch mortars were deployed by the main assault force moving up Island Road towards the Tai Tam X-Roads.

The Canadian troops and Volunteers were firing from this position on Notting Hill at Japanese troops on and around Bridge Hill, and possibly although at long range at Japanese troops on Red Hill. The photo below shows our approximate route from Island Road (1941 nomenclature) up to Notting Hill, Bridge Hill, Sugar Loaf and down a steep and rocky ravine back to Island Road.

Our route shown in black

Looking from Sugar Loaf to Bridge Hill (the bump in the mid-ground)

Two-Inch Mortar bomb cap
Mortar bomb and screw-off cap