Sunday 29 January 2017

On the battlefields of Hong Kong and battlefield finds - January 2017

On the battlefields of Hong Kong (1) 

In cool mid-January weather in 2017, 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 the names of the major hill features.  The line of arrows marked on the map shows our route which was most probably the same as that taken by the Japanese Army as they moved up to the Twins before attacking Stanley Mound.  

The route 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 19 December were deployed at Sugar Loaf, 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 American Club at Tai Tam). As we proceeded higher up the hillside we found a considerable number of dug-outs and trenches. These trenches were on or close to the Twins and were most likely Japanese positions. This was supported by items found.  We found Japanese bullets and chargers (see below) and musket balls from British anti-personnel shells.

Japanese 6.5 rounds and chargers for loading. 
The presence of large numbers of Japanese troops in this area on 22/23 December was observed and 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 fired by the 18-pdr field guns at Stanley belonging to 965-Defence Battery.
Courtesy: Stuart Woods
After identification, the above items were left in situ. Perhaps the most interesting find was a tube of Kolynos toothpaste. 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.

On the battlefields of Hong Kong (2)

In late January 2017, I went for another trek with Stuart Woods on the battlefields around Stanley. We started at a watercourse 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 21 December 1941. These troops acted as the left-flank guard for the brigade-level attack that took place that day by East Infantry Brigade on the Tai Tam X-Roads (first objective). The second 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 the words inscribed  "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 on Notting Hill were firing from this position 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 (using 1941 nomenclature) up to Notting Hill, Bridge Hill, Sugar Loaf and down a steep and rocky ravine back to Island Road.

Our route is 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