Wednesday 3 May 2017

Rifleman Ray Jackson - a WW2 soldier's watch found in hills of Hong Kong

A wrist watch found in the hills of Hong Kong, once owned by a Canadian soldier who was killed in action during the Battle for Hong Kong in December 1941, is returned to his family in Canada 

On Monday 27 March 2017, Dave Willott, one of the military history group in Hong Kong, was searching the hillside of Stone Hill, near Stanley, when he found and unearthed a wrist watch. There is nothing particularly unusual about finding a watch, except that in this case, when he cleaned it, he found engraved on the reverse, the name and rank of a Canadian soldier who had served with the Royal Rifles of Canada (RRC) in the Battle for Hong Kong in December 1941. The watch had once belonged to twenty-one-year-old Rifleman Ray Donald Jackson who served with 'D' Coy RRC.

At noon on Monday 22 December 1941, two platoons from  'D' Coy had been redeployed to Stanley Mound, from their positions at Chung Hom Kok. At 1700 hours Battalion HQ, at Stone Hill Shelters, ordered the two 'D' Coy platoons to move to Stone Hill in order to strengthen the centre of the battalion front. Rifleman Jackson was part of this force.  Later that evening the 'B' Coy and 'HQ' Coy platoons on Stanley Mound were pushed off the crest by Japanese infantry supported by mortar and artillery. The  crest was re-taken after a Vickers machine gun barrage was opened on the crest of Stanley Mound on Tuesday morning (23 Dec) from 1/Mx positions in Stanley Village.

Pre-war map showing location of Stone Hill and the Royal Rifles of Canada Bn HQ at Stone Hill Shelters
The 'D' Coy platoons remained at Stone Hill during  the night of 22 December. Throughout the following day they were involved in fire-fights with Japanese troops. The amount of spent ammunition found on Stanley Mound and Stone Hill testify to the extent of fighting that took place on 22 and 23 December on these two hills on the Stanley perimeter. The hills were strategically important  because they overlooked Stanley where British and Allied forces had concentrated and were preparing to fight a last stand. Possession of these hills by the Japanese permitted observed and therefore accurate fire to be brought down on the military positions on Stanley Peninsula.

The Canadian infantry had been in continuous action since the Japanese landed on the Island on the night of 18/19 December. The  battalion had been seriously depleted by battle casualties, and the men were physically exhausted. A decision was made to withdraw the battalion to the flatter ground around Stanley. At dusk on Tuesday 23 December, the battalion, withdrew from the hills on the Stanley perimeter, under cover of darkness, to new positions near Stanley Village. A new battalion HQ was established at Bungalow 'A', one of the staff bungalows in the grounds of St Stephen's College, Stanley.

Rifleman Jackson was reported as missing in action and was "last seen on Stone Hill" (source Tony Banham Not the Slightest Chance). He was most probably killed at the location on Stone Hill, where the watch was found, and this may have occurred during their evacuation under fire in the evening of Tuesday 23 December, two days before the colony surrendered.

The photograph below, by Stuart Woods shows the reverse of the watch after being cleaned by Leigh Hardwick both members of the military history group. The engraving reads:  "Pte. Ray D. Jackson B68205." The rank of Pte rather than Rifleman on the engraving denotes that Ray Jackson was in a different unit before joining the Royal Rifles in 1941, although his Army service number was unchanged.

Very often those reported as missing in action have no known grave. However in Ray Jackson's case his body must have been recovered because he is buried at Sai Wan Military Cemetery. His grave is shown in the photograph below. He may have been given a battlefield burial by his own troops during the battle, or may have been buried after hostilities ended by Allied burial parties allowed out from initial incarceration at Stanley Fort,  to collect wounded and bury the dead. Such burials would take place at the location where the body was found. Those buried either during hostilities, or after hostilities ended, were exhumed after the war and reinterred in one of the two military cemeteries, which were located at Sai Wan and Stanley. 

Ray Jackson's grave (Courtesy Craig Mitchell)  
Dave wanted to return the watch to the soldier's family and our small group of history enthusiasts rallied round to help. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission on-line records confirmed that Ray Jackson  died on 23 December 1941, and that his next of kin were George and Charlotte Jackson from Wiarton, Ontario, Canada. Tony Banham's web site contains a list of garrison members, Ray was listed as being in 'D' Coy which fitted with his being killed in action on 23 December on Stone Hill.

The next step was to contact Jim Trick and Lori Atkinson Smith of the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association in Canada (HKVCA). They worked with Lillian Randall, a researcher in Canada, and within twenty-four hours had discovered a family member. There was no direct descendant as  Ray was killed whilst still a young man, and before he had a chance to marry and have children of his own. It appears he was adopted by George and Charlotte Jackson who were from a farming family in Ontario. I think he may have been adopted within the wider family, as his birth parents  appear to bear the same family name. George and Charlotte Jackson only had one child, a daughter Ida Pearl Jackson born in 1904. She was seventeen years older than Ray her adoptive brother. She married Clifford Burgess in September 1925 when Ray was still a young child. We found that Ray's closest surviving family member is Steve Burgess who is the grandson of Ida and Clifford Burgess. He was astonished to be contacted by the HKVCA and told about the watch which had been found on a battlefield in Hong Kong only twenty-four hours earlier.

Ray's Attestation Record (
Leigh Hardwick, a professional modeller, and member our group made a beautiful walnut presentation box to hold the watch with the emblem of the Royal Rifles of Canada engraved on the lid. 

Presentation box made by Leigh Hardwick with photo courtesy Stuart Woods
The HKVCA presented the watch  to Steve Burgess in May 2017. It is very rare to find something with a name on it. It is good to think that this personal item that one belonged to a young Canadian soldier, who gave his life in the service of his country,  fighting in the hills on Hong Kong Island, is finally going home, after seventy-five years, back to Canada, and back to a member of his family. 


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