Monday 31 December 2018

Captain Norman Cuthbertson, 2nd Bn Royal Scots - Hong Kong

Captain Norman Henderson Cuthbertson served as Adjutant for the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots during the Battle for Hong Kong in December 1941. In this slightly out-of-focus family photograph, we see him wearing the Royal Scots headdress known as the Glengarry. The background looks like pre-war Hong Kong, but I can't identify the buildings, but I think it could be Austin Barracks on the Peak. Perhaps a reader will know. His commission was gazetted in January 1938 at which time he was twenty-years-old. 

Captain Norman Cuthbertson (Courtesy: family)
The 2nd Battalion had been in Hong Kong since 1938 having been moved there from India. I am not sure when Norman Cuthbertson arrived in Hong Kong but it was probably in 1940. Britain was at war but Kong Kong although under threat of invasion, was still at peace and Hong Kong was a good posting. Augustus Muir in The First of Foot the official history of the Royal Scots wrote than many of the officers owned yachts and that Captain Drew-Wilkinson and Lt Cuthbertson were prominent among the enthusiasts. At that time the battalion utilised Victoria Barracks, nearby Murray Barracks and Austin Barracks.

The Royal Scots Glengarry
Norman Cuthbertson was born in 1918 in West Lothian, Scotland. He was the youngest of five siblings. He had two brothers and two sisters. In the photograph below we see him with his brother Andrew. Andrew tragically died at the age of ten which may not have been very long after the photograph was taken. Norman was around eight-years-old. In the photograph, he has an endearing tilt of the head, whilst his older brother has a slightly mischevious grin. They look like they were close to each other. 

Norman (right) and brother Andrew (left) - (Courtesy: family)
Lt Douglas Baird, 2/RS recalled being ordered to report to Battalion HQ at the skeet ground on Castle Peak Road to collect equipment during the early morning of Monday 8 December 1941. Whilst on his way with a corporal to Battalion HQ, they heard the sound of aircraft flying overhead. They were in fact, Japanese aircraft on their way to bomb and strafe Kai Tak Airport and Sham Shui Po Barracks. When he reached, Battalion HQ people were rushing in all directions. He ran into Captain Cuthbertson who was then serving as the battalion's Adjutant and who told them war had begun and that they were to get back to their battle positions on Pineapple Ridge. As Adjutant, Norman Cuthbertson would have been based at Battalion HQ serving as a right-hand man to the Battalion Commander, Lt -Col Simon White. The Adjutant for a battalion is normally a senior captain or major. He is in charge of administration, organisation and discipline, acting as a senior staff officer. 
   During the fighting on the Mainland, on Thursday 11 December, the Royal Scots war diary records that Captain Cuthbertson with personnel from the AA Platoon from Advanced Battalion HQ 'moved forward to PB 314 to thicken up defences in that area'. I was interested to find that Norman Cuthbertson had manned this PB on 11 December 1941. They had been heavily mortared but incurred no casualties. PB 314 is situated on the western side of Golden Hill Road. It's actually the one PB in that area that I have not managed to locate and explore but my friend and fellow history enthusiast, Alexander Macdonald, has been inside the remains of the PB.

Alexander Macdonald inside PB 314 (Courtesy: Alex Macdonald)
The remains of PB 314  (Courtesy: Alex Macdonald)
During the fighting at Wong Nai Chung Gap on Hong Kong Island, Lt Stancer, commanding 'C' Coy, 2/RS was wounded in the head by shrapnel and had to be hospitalised. Captain Cuthbertson, once again only too eager to get into the front-line replaced him as Company Commander. Cuthbertson had been at Battalion HQ which at that time was located near the petrol station at the junction of Stubbs Road and Tai Hang Road. Captain Cuthbertson's company came under heavy attack. Cuthbertson organised a counterattack and prevented the Japanese from moving forward down Blue Pool Valley. Cuthbertson was also wounded during the close-quarter fighting during which the battalion held on to Tai Hang Road and Wong Nai Chung Gap Road. They were later pushed back up Stubbs Road towards Wan Chai Gap. Hong Kong capitulated on Christmas Day and the Royal Scots were ordered to break off the fighting and surrender to the nearest Japanese commander. Lt-Col Simon White, Captain Douglas Ford and Pte King proceeded under the flag of truce to the Japanese positions on Stubbs Road. They were taken to No 48 Stubbs Road which was the local Japanese HQ. Augustus Muir notes that after the surrender when a roll was taken the battalion was down to four officers and ninety-eight other ranks.
   After the surrender, Cuthbertson was incarcerated in Sham Shui Po Camp and then Argyle Street. In late September 1942, 1,816 British prisoners of war including a large number of the Royal Scots were sent to Japan to work as slave labourers in factories, foundries, docks and mines. They boarded a Japanese armed freighter the Lisbon Maru. 2/Lt Baird recalled Norman, who he refers to as Ely, sleeping in the bunk above him.
Norman Cuthbertson our very tall Adjutant was nicknamed Ely, due to the similarity of his surname with that of the world-known contract bridge expert, Ely Culbertson.  His sleeping space was immediately above my head so together with Doug Fairbairn and Pip Stancer we became very friendly during the days lived on the Lisbon Maru. 
On 1 October 1942, the Lisbon Maru was torpedoed by an American submarine not realising that it was carrying British prisoners of war. The freighter was armed and carried no markings. It was also carrying Japanese troops. After the torpedo hit the ship, the engines stopped and the ship developed a list. The Japanese may have tried to effect repairs, but to no avail, the ship was sinking slowly, stern first, and taking in water faster than it could be pumped out.  The Japanese troops in the stern hold were taken off the ship by another vessel which came alongside. The prisoners had expected that they too would be taken off but instead, the hatches were closed up and battened down with tarpaulin and planks. The cargo holds were in pitch darkness, and without ventilation, they soon became very hot despite the northern latitude and the cold October temperatures. There was no drinking water. There was no sanitation, and with many men suffering from dysentery and other illnesses, conditions soon became appalling. After some twenty-four hours, the list worsened. One of the prisoners had somehow secreted a knife onboard, and this was used by an officer to cut through the tarpaulin and remove the planks. They then forced their way out, some being shot by the guards as they emerged on deck. The guards were quickly overcome, and the hatches opened on the other holds. By this time the main deck was already awash. There was a panic to get out of the hold as seawater poured inside. The staircase gave way, and a number of men were injured as they fell back into the hold. Lt Douglas Baird recalled the gallantry of Captain Norman Cuthbertson.
Water was pouring in steadily now... Then we saw our Adjutant Norman Cuthbertson make for the stairway and push his way down to the bottom of the hold against the current of men climbing up. The bottom of the hold was already knee-deep in water and we expected the Lisbon Maru to sink at any moment or turn turtle as the list became more pronounced. ... Cuthbertson with the help of RSM Goodfellow  had managed to get on to the deck most of our injured Royal Scots.
2/Lt Hamilton, 2/RS recalled that Captain Cuthbertson was the last one to leave Hold No. 2, having ensured that were no more injured men remaining. The men abandoned ship, some with life-vests others holding onto floating bits of wreckage. The Japanese vessels nearby then started machine-gunning survivors in the water or trying to run them down with their propellers. Chinese fishermen from some nearby islands started picking up survivors, and perhaps it was seeing this that the Japanese started to pick up survivors. When the survivors were put ashore near Shanghai, there was only 970 out of the original total of just over 1,800 prisoners of war. Some had died on the escort vessels, and many others died (more than two hundred) over the next few weeks from diphtheria and or dysentery following the sinking. One of these was Norman Cuthbertson. 

Yokohama War Cemetery        

He died aged twenty-four. Although still a young man, he had set an example for all. He put others before himself. When troops were desperately trying to get out of the hold, he was going back into it, to rescue the wounded or sick men that were not able to get out unassisted.  He was remembered by his fellow officers and men as an excellent soldier, a gallant officer, a strong leader and a very fine comrade. 


Addendum 1:
Alex Macdonald advised me that there is a collection of items relating to Captain Norman Cuthbertson which was donated to the Royal Scots Museum in Edinburgh in 2010 by his niece Mrs Caroline (Caro) Cuthbertson Allen. These papers make reference to Norman being a motor-cycle enthusiast and include the photo below. This was taken in Hong Kong and is blown up from a larger photo of HQ Coy and show Norman sitting beside his motor-cyle in a group photo.

I would like to express my thanks to Susan Hannel from the family for permission to use the photographs of Norman Cuthbertson as a boy and as an officer in the Royal Scots, and to Alex Macdonald for permission to use his photographs of PB314

Main Sources:
2nd Battalion Royal Scots War Diary
The First of Foot - The Official History of the Royal Scots (Augustus Muir)
Lt Baird's diary/memoirs (Dad's Story)  edited by his daughter Catherine Baird.
The Sinking of the Lisbon Maru (Geoffry Hamilton).

Monday 10 December 2018

Eugenie Zaitzeff - Description of life in Japanese Occupied Hong Kong

I first became aware of Eugenie Zaitzeff when I read a file note from an interview with Hong Kong Government official David MacDougall dated December 1943. The file note is held at the Public Records Office in Hong Kong. She had been repatriated from Hong Kong with other Canadian citizens in September 1943 as part of a civilian internee exchange which had been agreed with Japan. A similar exchange involving US citizens had taken place in June 1942. Eugenie arrived in New York on the MS Gripsholm, a Swedish passenger liner, that had been chartered by the US Government to bring home Canadian and US citizens from internment in Asia. The Gripsholm sailed to Goa in India carrying Japanese civilians who had resided in North and South America. In Goa, she moored close to the Japanese troopship Teia Maru which was carrying Canadian and US citizens from internment camps in Asia, but some civilians, like Eugenie Zaitzeff, had not been interned. In her case, she had avoided internment on the grounds of her Russian descent. Also onboard was Emily (Micky) Hahn, the glamorous and unconventional American writer and traveller. She too had avoided internment on the grounds that she had been married to a Chinese national. Eugenie had struggled to survive in Japanese occupied Hong Kong, where food was desperately short, and theft and snatching was commonplace, not to mention the brutality of the Japanese gendarmerie and soldiery.
   The prisoners were exchanged. The Teia Maru sailed to Yokohama, and the Gripsholm sailed to New York. One can imagine the relief as the American and Canadian civilian internees boarded the neutral Swedish ship. The Japanese civilians, perhaps with some exceptions, were not happy to be going back. Many had made America their home, and Japan may have seemed like a foreign country. The Teia Maru stopped in Singapore and Manila on the way back to Japan. At these ports, the Japanese military recruited some of the passengers to help the war effort by serving as interpreters and translators. There was probably little choice.
   Whilst reading a file at the Imperial War Museum, I saw this press cutting with a centre photo of Eugenie and her eldest daughter Ann. The news report stated that she was a Russian lady born in China who had married a Russian-Canadian from Vancouver. She and her family had been part of the Russian emigre community who had fled to China following the Bolshevik revolution. After the Sino-Japanese war began in 1937 many Russians had left Harbin, Shanghai and other cities in China and had taken up residence in Hong Kong.

Press Cutting from Vancouver Daily Province Dec 1943 (IWM) 
Her husband Anatole Zaitzeff worked for the Canadian Government in Hong Kong. He had joined the HKVDC and served in No. 1 Battery. This battery was equipped with two 4-inch  coastal defence guns located at Cape D'Aguilar. After the battery was evacuated on 19 December 1941, the personnel were moved to Stanley where they fought as infantry during the close quarter fighting around Stanley Village. Anatole Zaitzeff was incarcerated at Sham Shui Po Camp and would not see Eugenie until after liberation in 1945.
   David MacDougall worked with the Ministry of Information in Hong Kong when war erupted in December 1941. He escaped with Admiral Chan Chak, the senior representative of the Chinese Nationalist Government, and the crews of the five remaining motor torpedo boats following the surrender on Christmas Day. Three of the original eight MTBs had been destroyed during hostilities. MacDougall had been posted from the UK to North America and returned to Hong Kong in September 1945, just after the war ended, in the rank of Brigadier serving as Chief of Civil Affairs in the military administration under Rear-Admiral Harcourt. Eugenie's debriefing provides a very interesting description of life in occupied Hong Kong. MacDougall wrote that she was a very useful source of information on what was happening in Hong Kong.
 A highly intelligent observer, able by reason of her Russian extraction to claim exemption from internment, Mrs Zaitzeff was by far the best informed of the Hongkong party. From the day of the surrender to her repatriation, she was lodged in a block of flats in May Road   (Abemore Court), reserved by the Japanese for foreigners. Such consular officers as remain in the Colony were housed in the same building. Mrs Zaitzeff was permitted to walk freely about Hong Kong and in spite of the unpleasantness, took every opportunity to do so. 
She described how the paths towards the university were lined with skeletons, which she thought were either those of British soldiers killed in the fighting or of Chinese civilians who had died of starvation. The Japanese lacked either sufficient food or the willingness to supply it to the Chinese, other than in lieu of wages. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese were forced to return to Southern China and POWs at Sham Shui Po Camp recall seeing huge columns of Chinese heading north to the border by way of both Castle Peak Road and Tai Po Road. They were prey to bandits, and many were robbed and or killed on the perilous way.
   Although burial parties of British POWs were sent out after the surrender to locate the British dead and conduct burials, many of the bodies could not be found and were left unburied. Somebody once mentioned to me, that a letter to the SCMP written after the war complained that there were still skeletal remains in the gulley opposite the AA position at Stanley Gap. Many of the Chinese population, especially the refugees from China, were unable to find work in Japanese occupied Hong Kong, and without the money to buy food, starvation became common. There were even reports of cannibalism, with flesh being cut away from dead bodies on the street. Eugenie noted that between four and six new corpses were to be seen most mornings on Old Peak Road leading from May Road to the Centre of Town.
Acute shortages are everywhere apparent. Flour and rice are scarce, and long queues are the order of the day. Necessities are obtainable only by ration tickets which are in turn obtainable only on proof that the individual is employed on work contributing to the establishment of the New Order and approved by the Japanese. The whole population is thus caught in the dilemma – they must either work for the Japanese or starve.

It is no longer safe to walk about with a handbag or parcel, even in the centre of the city. The handbag is snatched, and the parcel is stolen, and its contents are eaten before the eyes of the owner. 
She described how the Cricket Club in the centre of Victoria was used as a Japanese recreational club. Tennis tournaments and fencing (or perhaps Kendo) matches were held there. Hong Kong had been stripped, cars, metal railings, statues, and anything of value had been shipped back to Japan. Gas stoves were unobtainable, and electricity was scarce, and those that had access were rationed to a meagre amount of electricity. Eugenie described how most people sat in the dark with a candle if they could obtain one. Public transport was at a minimum. By September 1943 there were few buses, and the trams ran irregularly. They were crowded, and Japanese in uniform were excused payment and had priority. The Star Ferries still ran every half hour. There were very few civilian cars on the street given the shortage of fuel. Government House had been demolished, and the new building was under construction in 1943 in what Eugenie described as an exaggerated Japanese style of architecture. She was critical of Sir Shou Son Chow and Robert Kotewall
Kotewall and Shou Son Chow, who seem to vie with each other in pro-Japanese fervour and anti-British advocacy are two rare exceptions (to the no one runs a car rule). These two gentlemen are very much in the public eye. The Kotewall girls are among the few women who seem able to shop for anything save the bare necessities of life.

The police have been reinforced by fresh Chinese contingents drawn apparently from the North. Since the first American bombings, the Indian Police have grown markedly more polite to foreigners. At first, they were hostile. Cinemas are open in town and show either Japanese films or pictures of the triumphs of Wang Ching-Wei. When the show is frankly propagandist, admittance is free to all.
Many posters have been affixed to buildings in busy parts of the town; these depict a Chinese mother standing in an attitude of protection over her children while glancing fearfully at the sky. The caption reads  -Remember that it is American planes which are killing innocent women and children – the bombings are in fact welcomed even when a near–miss at the Central Police Station killed upwards of 150 Chinese including children. The successful bombing of the oil tanks at Lai Chi Kok was a seven-day wonder in the town. 
She described how very few Japanese merchant ships entered the harbour and those that did often moored close to Sham Shui Po Camp thinking there was less chance of being bombed with the POW Camp nearby. The bombing increased significantly in 1944 and 1945. Few of the British built air raid tunnels were used. The one below Battery Path opposite HSBC was in use, and likewise, one in Queens Road East was in use, but both of these were restricted to Japanese only.

Eugenie worked with Doctor Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke whereby she and other ladies picked up parcels containing food and medicine and delivered them to Sham Shui Po Camp addressed to individuals as presents from friends. She also reported that the dependents of Volunteers still interned (some Chinese members had been released) who have hitherto been paid 50 yen a month with 30 yen for the first child and 20 yen for each additional child have been ordered to proceed to St Albert's Seminary on Stubbs Road, known as Rosary Hill, for internment. 

Eugenie was reunited with her husband after the war ended in 1945. They continued to live in Vancouver, Canada and had a second child, Kristina, born in 1947. Eugenie passed away in 2001 but left to posterity this interesting description of life in Japanese occupied Hong Kong. 



Interview on repatriation to Canada with British official D.M MacDougall  - Source:  HK PRO File HKRS 211-2-4

Files at IWM 


In September 2023 - I received the following email message from a reader in Western Canada:

I have just now been referred to your long ago published account of the life of Eugenie in the war years of the early 1940;s.  It is fascinating reading for me because Eugenie and her daughter and later her husband Anatole came to Vancouver following their experiences in Hong Kong to live, initially with my family in our family home, and then later
with my father’s parents in their home, also in Vancouver.  And what is particularly interesting to me is the fact that my parents took particular interest in looking after Eugenie and her daughter Ann on and after their arrival in Vancouver in, I believe, 1943 or 1944.  At that time I was perhaps 5 or 6 years of age and was taken about by my parents, including down to the CPR dock in Vancouver harbour to meet the ship that carried Eugenie and Ann.  On their arrival we travelled by my parents’ car to a south part of Vancouver where my parents’ house was located and where Eugenie and Ann lived for a while until they were taken to my father’s parents’ house in another neighbourhood to live more permanently and await Anatole’s arrival from what I believe was a POW camp in Hong Hong.  He did in fact arrive in 1945, I believe, and the Zaitzeff family was reunited there.  Eventually the Zaitzeffs acquired their own housing and my connection with them became more remote.
However the Zaitzeff family remained an important past memory and event in my life and to this day (I am presently 84 years old) I think Eugenie and Ann’s arrival is one of my earliest significant memories of life. Thank you for filling in some of the background. I believe that my parents interest in the Zaitzeffs arose through her husband Anatole who
I believe had attended Vancouver in the 1930s to become a student at the University of British Columbia where my parents were themselves students at that time and would have met Anatole then and there.  He obviously returned to Asia after his studies and was the conduit through which Eugenie and Ann came in contact with my parents. Ann remained in Vancouver and as she and I grew up and matured we would occasionally see and greet each other.  What has now happened to her I do not know.

Tuesday 16 October 2018

Fortress Signal Coy - Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC) in the Battle for Hong Kong

The Fortress Signal Coy, HKVDC was mobilised on Monday, 8 December 1941. The unit consisted of two officers, a CSM and thirteen British Other Ranks (BORs) and approximately 100  Chinese linesmen. They were all staff of Hong Kong Telephone Company (HK Tel Co).

Major John Patrick Sherry (Formerly Manager HK Tel Co.)
Captain Walter Charles Clark (Formerly Assistant Manager HK Tel Co.)

CSM Robert Kirkwood

James McDonald Dalziel
Thomas Davis
Paul John Engelbrecht
Arthur Leslie Fisher
William James Geall
William George Griffin
Charles Hatt
Arthur Charles Jeffreys
Charles Francis Needham
Duncan Tollan
Ben William Simmons
Leslie Douglas Skinner

Robert Emmet Farrell

The European Engineers were all given the rank of sergeant, except Kirkwood who was given the rank of company sergeant major (CSM). The Chinese Inspectors were given the rank of Corporal and the rest of the linesmen were Privates. 
   Major Sherry reported to Lt-Col Eustace Levett, Chief Signals Officer as did Major Arthur Nathaniel Braude who commanded the HKVDC Signals. Lt-Col Levett was based in the Battle Box underneath the HQ Building Victoria Barracks. The Battle Box was completed in 1940. Captain Peter Gracey and Lt Cyril Bucke both Royal Corps of Signals were also based in the Battle Box.  
   Robert Farrell was Chief Engineer of Hong Kong Telephone.  After initial internment, he was able to secure his release on the grounds that he was a national of the  Irish Free State. He was also the Spanish Consul. In November 1942 he left for Macau with his Spanish wife and infant child. He was assisted by the British Consul John Reeves who helped him secure passage by junk to Free China, from where he returned to the UK. He served in the Army and was posted back to Hong Kong as a Major in 1945 to help with the repatriation of POWs.   
     We know quite a lot about Fortress Signal Coy because of the fascinating diary published by Arthur (Les) Fisher entitled I Will Remember (1996). 

Les Fisher recalls being provided with 12 rounds and a .38 revolver. A slightly less chunky handgun than the usual Webley .455. The Coy HQ was in the Exchange Building which had been the Head Office for Hong Kong Tel Co. The Exchange Building in Des Voeux Road was built in 1926 and demolished in 1977. In 1941, it accommodated the Lane Crawford Department Store and the building was also known as Lane Crawford House. In the basement, there was a popular Cafe known as the Cafe Wiseman (it had originally been established as Cafe Weissmann). Fisher was initially posted to the Kowloon Telephone Exchange. He was then moved to Aberdeen where his base was a commandeered cinema. At Aberdeen, the Signals detachment consisted of Sgt Ernest Edward ("Dodger") Green, RCS and three men from Royal Corps of Signals (RCS) and eight Canadian Signalmen under a Corporal and the eight Chinese linesmen under Sgt Fisher.
    The linesmen and engineers were continually trying to fix underground, and overground, telephone lines whilst under fire. Communication was almost exclusively by telephone - and when lines were broken they needed to be repaired urgently. On Sunday, 14 December  Les Fisher and the Aberdeen Detachment were relocated to a house on Bisney Road in Po Fu Lam. The house was on a knoll between Queen Mary Hospital (QMH) and the shoreline of Sandy Bay. Bisney Road ran between Pok Fu Lam Road and Victoria Road. Fisher describes entering the house and finding it fully furnished, with servants and a pet dog, but the owner had vacated. The house was in between the 9.2-inch battery at Fort Davis and the AA Battery near Waterfall Bay which were both firing, and being fired at. The next location was even more heavily shelled. They were sent to Quarry Bay on the North East Shore on the day the Japanese landed. Their job was to repair the main telephone cable running along the shoreline and fix the branch lines to the various pillboxes and alternative positions along the shore from Causeway Bay to Shau Kei Wan. After the Japanese landed Fisher was able to make his way across the divide and down to Repulse Bay Hotel. They were at the hotel when the Japanese arrived on 20 December and the siege of the hotel commenced. Fisher participated in the military evacuation of the hotel on the night of 22/23 December. He made it through to Stanley Prison where he remained until the surrender of the colony on 25 December 1941.
    Les Fisher was incarcerated in North Point Camp and later at Sham Shui Po Camp. After liberation, he continued to work for Hong Kong Telephone despite his weakened state. He was repatriated in mid-November 1945. Whereas most left by ship, and many on RN vessels, Fisher left by air. He was flown on a Dakota to Kunming. After spending a few days in Kunming they were flown to Calcutta.  From Calcutta, they flew on a BOAC Sunderland flying boat to Karachi. They then flew by Dakota to Baghdad, Cairo, Malta, Marseilles, and finally landing at Poole. Then by rail to Sheffield,  where he was reunited with his wife and daughter who he had not seen for five years since they were evacuated in July 1940. He returned to Hong Kong in 1946 and worked with HKT until retirement in 1954.


Wednesday 3 October 2018

S/Sgt Henry James Gordon Ross, Royal Army Medical Corps

There were so many unsung heroes who died during the Battle for Hong Kong and one of these was Staff Sergeant Henry James Gordon Ross, RAMC. He was born in June 1917, during one world war, and died during the next world war. He was aged twenty-six when he died in Japan on 15 May 1944. He had endured the sinking of the Lisbon Maru in October 1942, and the brutal incarceration at prisoner-of-war camps in Hong Kong, and in Kobe, Japan. 
A memorial in Yokohama
I'm only sorry that I know so little about him. He was born in London and baptised at the Church of the Holy Redeemer in Islington. His father shared the same first names. His father predeceased his mother, Clara. Ross's small estate of GBP321 went to his widowed mother. She probably only heard of his death after the war ended in 1945.
   The words on his memorial stone are very fitting. "He thought of others, never himself, gave his life helping his comrades." When the Japanese armed freighter Lisbon Maru sank after being torpedoed by an American submarine, Ross was characteristically helping others rather than trying to save his own life.  Here is a report by Surgeon Lt Charles Anthony Jackson, RN which speaks of S/St Ross's exemplary conduct. 
I climbed out of the forward hold [No. 1 Hold]. I found the Japanese had abandoned the ship. S/Sgt Ross, RAMC, reported that he had a number of injured and sick mustered on deck from the holds aft. Between us we managed to render first aid and reassured disabled men. I was myself picked up after about four hours together with S/Sgt Ross and such ailing men as we had been able to keep with us. Throughout this period and subsequently as the medical orderly in charge at Kobe Camp, S/Sgt Ross, RAMC, displayed great devotion to duty and courage.
He saved many lives and eased the suffering of others whilst at Kobe Camp. He is remembered by Captain Martin Weedon, 1/Mx, a POW at Kobe House Camp. 
He died of beri-beri on top of a stomach ulcer. Very sad as he has done more than anyone for the sick. I owe my life to him when I had diptheria. 
He was starved to death by the Japanese who provided insufficient food and medicine and forced their prisoners of war to carry out slave labour in docks, mines and factories. So many lives were lost needlessly to malnutrition. At such a young age he devoted himself to alleviating suffering in others.  For one so deserving, he never had the chance to marry, or know fatherhood,  and live his life. 

After the war, he was awarded a posthumous Mention in Despatches (MiD). 


Friday 10 August 2018

2/Lt Douglas Horace Baird, 2nd Bn Royal Scots

Douglas Baird was born in Valparaiso, Chile on 27th August 1917. His father William Baird was born in Ayrshire, Scotland, and later emigrated to Chile. William Baird married Ellen (née Hooper), who was of Cornish descent, in 1907 in Valparaiso. I first read about Douglas Baird in a book entitled Colonial Sunset (2004) by Ralph Stephenson. Stephenson, a civil servant in peacetime, served as a Lieutenant in the Hong Kong Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (HKRNVR). On 24th December, he was wounded in the leg by a shell splinter and hospitalised. Whilst a patient, at Bowen Road Military Hospital, he found himself in the next bed to Douglas Baird.
"I was in a bed next to a soldier in the Royal Scots called Baird. He spoke with a strong Scottish accent, but it turned out he was a South American from Chile. ... He had gone to England at the outbreak of war and joined up ... We stuck together in captivity; and later in prison camp." (Source: Colonial Sunset p.95).
2/Lt  D.H. Baird (Courtesy Catherine Williams née Baird)
As a teenager, my family lived in Chile, and I have very good memories of that beautiful country. I now live in Hong Kong, and research and write about the Battle for Hong Kong. I was intrigued that an officer from Santiago de Chile had fought in the Battle for Hong Kong. Who was Douglas Baird I wondered? A search of passenger records showed Douglas, aged 23, taking passage from Chile to England in June 1940 on the SS Orbita. The passenger manifest showed the names of many other young men, of British descent, travelling on the same ship. They were returning to England to join the armed forces. As volunteers, they had to pay their own fares, and they travelled in third class, but they were well looked after by the other passengers and crew. Several were known to Douglas, and some had attended the Grange School, the same school that Douglas had attended in Santiago. It was a British school serving the Anglo-Chilean community. There was a large British community in Chile, over 50,000 Britons had settled in Chile between 1840 and 1914. Many of the British settled in the seaports of Punta Arenas in the south, and Valparaiso close to the capital city of Santiago. When war came in 1914 and again in 1939 many young men from this community returned to Britain to serve their mother country in its hour of need. 
SS Orbita (Source:
Passenger List SS Orbita (Source:

The Orbita arrived at Liverpool docks in August 1940. The Battle of Britain was underway, and an RAF recruitment party came aboard, many of the Chilean volunteers joined the Royal Air Force. Douglas was minded to do likewise, but a friend had joined the Royal Scots and encouraged him to do the same, and he was of Scottish ancestry. He commenced recruit training at Glencorse Barracks, Auchendinny, near Edinburgh. After completing the recruit course, he was selected for officer training, which he undertook at Bulford Barracks in Wiltshire. He returned to the Royal Scots Glencorse Barracks as a Second Lieutenant. Fed up with the cold weather in Scotland, Douglas volunteered for a tropical climate posting. Douglas with three other Royal Scots officers, Lt Frank  ("Pip") Stancer, 2/Lt James Ford, and 2/Lt Geoffrey Fairbairn were assigned to the regiment's 2nd Battalion based in Hong Kong. They boarded the trooper MV Stirling Castle, and sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, and then by way of Bombay to Singapore. In South Africa, they were joined by 2/Lt Jim McGhee who had also been posted to join the Royal Scots in Hong Kong. They disembarked at Singapore and waited for another ship to take them to Hong Kong. Here they were joined by another Royal Scot, Captain Alex Slater-Brown, who was returning to Hong Kong after completing a Bren gun carrier course in Singapore. 

On arrival in Hong Kong, they were met by three officers from their battalion including Lt James Ford's brother, Captain Douglas Ford. They were shown to the officer's quarters in Victoria Barracks and introduced to their commanding officer Lt-Col Simon White, and Major Stanford Burn, the Second-in-Command. 2/Lt Baird was assigned to 'B' Coy commanded by Captain Richardson.
"Captain Fred Richardson was a middle height, thin, red-faced man of about 45 years of age and a bachelor. He had taken part in the First World War, but was not a regular soldier. He was always very serious, had no sense of humour, and had a very precise way of speaking; he looked and acted more like a schoolteacher than an Army Officer. Captain Richardson introduced us to the Company Sergeant Major (CSM), Donald Matheson, and the Company Quartermaster Sergeant (CQMS), John Benson.  He then showed us around 'B' Company barrack rooms. McGhee took over No.10 Platoon. I took No.11, and Fairbairn No.12. The second in command of the Company was Lt Richard ("Dick") Stanton. 
"The battalion was well under strength of 1200; instead it had approximately 800 men. The platoons, which should have been composed of at least 40 men, only had about 30 men each. The reason being that the more experienced officers and non-commissioned officers had been sent to Britain after the fall of France and not fully replaced. In part we were the replacements of the officers, but very few NCO’s had been replaced only promoting corporals and men to higher positions." (Source: Dad's Story Douglas Baird's personal diary edited by his daughter Catherine Williams née Baird).
The battalion had arrived in Hong Kong from Lahore in January 1938, under the command of Lt-Col Hall. In 1938, he was succeeded by Lt-Col McDougall. McDougall had served on the Western Front, and had been wounded at Ypres, and had won the Military Cross for gallantry whilst serving with the 1st Battalion in Macedonia. In 1941 McDougall was posted to Burma, and Lt-Col Simon White took over as Battalion Commander. Lt-Col White had also served in WW1 and had won the Military Cross. He had previously served in the battalion as a Major commanding 'D' Coy.

Major-General Christopher Maltby, the Military Commander in Hong Kong, who arrived in mid-1941 to take up his appointment as General Officer Commanding (GOC) British Troops in China, was scathing about McDougall, who he felt drank too much.
"I only saw Lt Colonel McDougall for a few weeks. He was sodden with gin and completely ruined his battalion." (1) 
Major-General Maltby was also disparaging about Lt-Col Simon White, the new Battalion Commander.
"Lt-Col White was a bad CO. I suggested to Wallis (Brigadier commanding Mainland Infantry Brigade) that he should relieve him of command of the battalion, but the latter pointed out that there was no senior officer in the battalion who was any better." (2)
Douglas Baird wrote in his diary that he held Lt-Col Simon White in low esteem. Other officers in the battalion, like Captain Pinkerton and Major Walker, were first class, and the junior officers like 2/Lt Baird and the other subalterns, Lieutenants and Captains fought with great bravery, and mostly against numerically superior forces. By 1941 there was a shortage of experienced officers in the battalion. The only regular officers were Lt-Col White, Major Burn, Major Pirie, Captain Cuthbertson (the Adjutant) and Captain Pinkerton. Major Walker and Captain Richardson had seen war service in WW1 but had not continued in the Army after the war. The rest of the officers, like 2/Lt Baird, were holding wartime commissions.  Douglas Baird was allocated to 'B' Coy.

'B' Coy Structure

Coy Commander:    Captain Frederick Richardson
2nd in Command:    Lt Richard Stanton
CSM Donald Matheson
CQM John Benson

No. 10 Platoon:       2/Lt James McGhee
No. 11 Platoon:       2/Lt Douglas Baird
No. 12 Platoon:       2/Lt Geoffrey Fairbairn

In November 1941, the battalion was ordered to occupy their war stations on the Gin Drinkers Line (GDL). This was a defensive line, manned by three battalions, which stretched for ten miles from Gin Drinkers Bay on the west side of the Kowloon Peninsula to Port Shelter on the east side. The Royal Scots occupied the left flank of the line from Gin Drinkers Bay to the Shing Mun Redoubt. The 2/14 Punjab Regiment occupied the centre of the line, and the 5/7 Rajputs manned the right flank of the line. The GDL was sometimes referred to as the Inner Line with the Outer Line being the frontier with China.

The Gin Drinkers Line (blue arrows show the Japanese advance ) - (National Archives, UK)

Royal Scot's initial positions on the GDL (marked in red A, B, C & D)  (National Archives - UK)
2/Lt Baird's company ('B' Coy) was in the middle of the Royal Scots sector of the GDL.
"McGhee's platoon (No. 10) was on my left, and had a pillbox next to Castle Peak Road. My platoon (No. 11) was in the middle, in slit trenches with Coy HQ behind me. Fairbairn's platoon (No. 12) was on my right, also in slit trenches. Company HQ had a concrete room (splinter proof shelter) with four bunks where Captain Richardson and Lt Dick Stanton slept, and were communicated by telephone with each of our platoons and with Battalion HQ."  (Source: Dad's Story courtesy Catherine Williams)  
In the first two weeks, the platoons concentrated on improving their defences and laying Dannert wire (concertina wire entanglements). There were gaps between battalion positions, company positions and platoon positions. Three battalions were insufficient to man a defensive line of that length. 2/Lt Baird recalled that there was a gap of nearly half a mile between the platoon on his left and likewise on his right. They tried to cover the gaps through interlocking fire. The battalion was considerably under strength at around 780 men. A number of officers and senior NCOs had been milked to serve in other theatres of war. To add to this difficulty the battalion was badly affected by malaria, and a number of men were hospitalised with this debilitating sickness.

The war started on Monday 8th December. 2/Lt Baird had been over to Battalion HQ, located at the Skeet Ground on Castle Peak Road, near the 6th milestone, and a mile or two back from 'B' Coy's positions on Pineapple Ridge. Pineapple Ridge ran up from the Texaco Peninsula to Pineapple Dam at the Jubilee Reservoir and the strong point known as the Shing Mun Redoubt. Whilst on his way to Bn HQ, he heard the sound of Japanese aircraft flying overhead, and later the sound of explosions as Kai Tak Airfield and other parts of Kowloon were bombed and strafed. That morning Japanese troops crossed the Outer Line and moved southwards towards the GDL. When 2/Lt Baird got back to his platoon positions, he found that his Platoon Sergeant, Sam Dunsmore, had seen to the removal of tents and that the platoon was standing too, and occupying their slit trenches.

In front of the line, further up Castle Peak Road, were the Forward Troops and Royal Engineers demolition parties. The Forward Troops included the battalion's Bren gun carrier platoon commanded by Captain Alex Slater-Brown, and two armoured cars from the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC). These troops were commanded by Major Stamford Burn. The Royal Engineers were responsible for blowing up road bridges, and road cuttings, in order to slow the Japanese advance towards the GDL. During the first day, three-man commando units were sent out to watch and probe the hill passes for Japanese patrols. Two of the Royal Scots commando units were in action against forward Japanese troops on Monday night. It rained during the night, making the trenches muddy and uncomfortable for the defenders standing too and waiting for the Japanese onslaught. The slit trenches overlooked the forward slopes of Pineapple Ridge and ran in a North East to South West direction from the reservoir towards the Texaco Peninsula and Gin Drinkers Bay.

The next night, Tuesday 9th December, the Japanese launched a surprise attack on the Shing Mun Redoubt, a complex of interconnected tunnels, pillboxes and concrete firing bays. The redoubt was on the right flank of the Royal Scot's sector. It was captured in the early hours of Wednesday 10th December. The redoubt had been manned by No. 8 Platoon, 'A' Coy 2/RS. The Coy Commander Captain Cyril ("Potato") Jones had established his Coy HQ in the Artillery Observation Post (AOP), which was located at the rear of the redoubt and connected to it by the tunnel system. On Wednesday morning, Douglas Baird recalled bullets whistling past his head whilst visiting the latrines on the rear slopes of the ridge. Their positions were coming under fire from Japanese troops who had line-of-sight on them from the Shing Mun Redoubt. Later Captain Richardson confirmed to 2/Lt Baird that the redoubt had been captured, and accordingly their forward positions on Pineapple Ridge had been compromised.

The loss of the Shing Mun Redoubt was a major setback and necessitated withdrawal of the line in a southeast direction, pivoted on Golden Hill and Smugglers Ridge. Captain Richardson ordered 2/Lt Baird to work with Major Stamford Burn in establishing the new line, normally a role for Seconds-in-Command. He ordered his Second-in-Command, Lt Dick Stanton, to take over Douglas Baird's No. 11 Platoon. (3) The new line ran from Castle Peak Road on the Lai Chi Kok Peninsula, and then up the slopes of Golden Hill to the ridge-line to the right of the road. 'D' Coy, formerly the battalion reserve company, commanded by Captain Pinkerton, moved forward to occupy the northern end of the Golden Hill ridgeline.

'B' Coy's new position was on the left of the line. 'C' Coy was moved forward and more to the right of 'B' Coy. Their right-hand platoons extending up Golden Hill. 'A' Coy were withdrawn, from their positions near Jubilee Reservoir, and moved by motor transport from Golden Hill Road to a position astride Castle Peak Road behind 'B' and 'C' Coy. The new positions of 'A' Coy were just to the north of the Lai Chi Kok Hospital, now the Jao Tsung-I Academy.

Royal Scot's positions from 10th Dec. (marked A2, B2, C2 and D2) (National Archives)
On 10th December 1941, Advanced Battalion HQ fell back from the Skeet Ground to Filters House near the Water Department's Filter Beds at Piper's Hill. Major Burn's Forward Troops had moved back behind the GDL, and Major Burn had established Rear Battalion HQ at the World Pencil Factory on Castle Peak Road, not far from the junction with Tai Po Road.

Rear Bn HQ at Pencil Factory and Bn HQ at Filter Beds. (Govt Maps Office)
A discussion on Facebook Group Battle of Hong Kong about the pencil factory resulted in a photo of the World Pencil Factory being posted by my fellow war history enthusiast Kei Fu. (See below).

Major Burn established Rear Bn HQ at the World Pencil Factory (Source:

In the new positions, 'B' Coy had one platoon (Douglas Baird's former platoon, then under Dick Stanton), and the Coy HQ (Captain Richardson, 2/Lt Baird and CSM Matheson) astride Castle Peak Road. The other two platoons (McGhee and Fairbairn) were positioned on the ridge-line to the right of the road.   In front was 'C' Coy, under Captain Walter Rose, whose right-hand platoon would link up with 'D' Coy on Golden Hill. It was an untidy front-line because 'B' Coy was behind 'C' Coy and 'A 'Coy behind 'B' Coy. The line had depth but not breadth, and there were gaps between platoon positions, which were wider than had been the case on Pineapple Ridge. There was inadequate wiring, insufficient trenches, and on terrain where it was difficult to dig in. There was no telephone line communication between the platoons, the companies, and nor with Bn HQ. Any communication had to be accomplished by a runner.

Douglas Baird recalled that one of the Bren gun carriers delivered additional Bren guns and ammunition to their position. This resulted in them having two Bren guns per section instead of one, doubling their firepower. The next morning, on Thursday 11th December, they heard machine gun fire on the right flank. Captain Richardson, the CSM, and a runner went forward on a recce to check their two right-hand platoons up on the ridge. Whilst Richardson was conducting the recce, he and the runner were both killed. The CSM made it back to Rear Bn HQ. The exact circumstances of Captain Richardson's death were unclear. Later that morning, the Japanese 230th Regiment attacked the Royal Scots positions with two battalions. 'D' Coy on the high ground of Golden Hill bore the brunt of the attack.

2/Lt Baird had been ordered to stay with Stanton's platoon on Castle Peak Road. Two sections were positioned on the slopes to the right of the road, and one section to the left of the road. Lt Stanton took up his position with the two sections on the hillside to the right. Douglas Baird took up his position with Cpl Harold Downing's section on the left-hand side of the road. They had some natural cover from boulders, and they had a clear line of sight along Castle Peak Road.
"We didn’t have to wait long before we sighted about half a mile away a large group of Japanese soldiers coming along Castle Peak Road. We knew that if they continued coming along the road, they would appear again at a distance well within our range of fire. I went over to Stanton’s side of the road where they had also sighted the Japs. ... They appeared around the bend with one man in front bearing a small Japanese flag which we called the “fried egg”. It was the perfect place for an ambush.  We wondered later how they could have come along Castle Peak Road so confidently without even a scout in front. Our men behaved very well keeping absolutely quiet, probably holding their breath like I was, until we had them where we wanted them. I don’t remember who was the first to give the order to fire, but our six Bren guns went simultaneously into action.  The sight was fantastic, the Japs scattering all over the place, trying to get cover wherever they could and not knowing where they were being fired from. Most of them scrambled into the gutter, which ran along the hillside of the road, and we saw some go over the seaside, dropping down to the rocks below, having little chance of surviving. The road was littered with bodies, either dead or wounded. Then we witnessed an amazing action. The man who carried the flag was probably one of the first to fall, after a short while when we had held our fire, a Jap shot out of the gutter, rushed to where the flag bearer had fallen and picked up the flag. He didn’t last more than a few seconds before he was shot down. A moment later another Jap rushed out of the gutter and picked up the flag, and of course, went down also. This repeated three times before they gave up their attempt. We wondered if they had been ordered to do that, or if they did it on their own as a sheer act of bravery." (Source: Dad's Story courtesy Catherine Williams) 
Those that survived the ambush on the road crawled back along the gutter, and no further attempt was made to advance along Castle Peak Road. The Japanese assumed the road was defended in strength, supported by troops on the ridge-line. They turned their attention to the other two 'B' Coy platoons, and 'C' Coy, on Golden Hill Ridge. At one stage 2/Lt Baird saw 2/Lt Fairbairn's platoon retreating southwards along Golden Hill Ridge, whilst being pursued by Japanese troops. The men at Stanton's and Baird's position near the road fired at the sky-lined Japanese troops with good effect.

The 'B' and 'C' Coy platoons on Golden Hill Ridge came under heavy mortar fire and were attacked by considerable numbers of Japanese troops. The commanding officers of both 'B' and 'C' companies were killed in action. After the Coy Commanders were killed the platoons on the ridge, withdrew presumably southwards on Golden Hill Ridge, and later intersecting Castle Peak Road. The unauthorised withdrawal by 'B' and 'C' Coy continued through 'A' Coy's positions and as far back as the World Pencil Factory. 'D' Coy, under Captain Pinkerton, held their positions on Golden Hill all day until they were ordered to withdraw in the evening when the battalion was ordered to embark and withdraw from the Mainland.

Lt Dick Stanton and 2/Lt Douglas Baird maintained their positions on Castle Peak Road. The 'B' and 'C' Coy troops did not pass through their position. The road ahead was clear other than the Japanese dead and wounded lying in the road. Stanton and Baird remained in their forward position all morning. They had no communication and sensed that they were in an isolated position in front of British lines. Lt Stanton, 2/Lt Baird and Sgt Dunsmore discussed the situation and agreed that they were cut off, and decided to retire and try to reach the battalion lines.
"We ordered the men to pick up the Bren guns, and as many boxes of ammunition as they could carry, and set off in single file on the sea side of Castle Peak Road. In this part the road ran further inland than the edge of the sea, we kept a sharp lookout towards Golden Hill, and set a scout about 100 yards in front of us. For more than half an hour in our retreat we saw no one. Castle Peak road was deserted, but we could hear constant firing to the left of us.  Eventually we came in contact with a few men of 'A' Company with a Sergeant, on either side of Castle Peak Road. The Sergeant informed us that Battalion HQ was a little further back at the junction of the Taipo and Castle Peak Roads." (Source: Dad's Story courtesy Catherine Williams) 
They passed through 'A' Coy positions and made their way to Advanced Bn HQ. Lt-Col Simon White was under a lot of strain; he had seen his two left flank companies ('B' and 'C' Coy) retreating that morning. There had been a break in the line and had the Japanese continued down Castle Peak Road it would have endangered the whole of the Mainland Brigade. Douglas Baird recalled that the Adjutant, Captain Cuthbertson, seemed to be running the Battalion HQ and that Lt-Col White seemed to be in a state of shock, possibly caused by strain and sleep deprivation. Cuthbertson ordered Stanton and Baird to deploy their men with 'A' Coy on Castle Peak Road.

Brigadier Wallis, commanding the Mainland Infantry Brigade, had received a call from Lt-Col White that morning to say that there had been an unauthorised withdrawal by units of his two left flank companies. Wallis sent Major Stamford Burn, who had been at Brigade HQ, back to the World Pencil Factory to rally the troops, and to stop the withdrawal. Wallis stated to both Lt-Col White and Major Burn that the good name of their battalion was at stake. Major Burn tried, with limited success, to rally and deploy the troops from 'B' and 'C' Coy at the World Pencil Factory. He was to some extent out of control and was unable to issue calm orders, and as a result, he had great difficulty in getting the men to obey him. Colonel Newnham, a senior General Staff Officer from China Command, took over the job of deploying the Canadian troops from 'D' Coy Winnipeg Grenadiers, and the troops from 'B' and 'C' Coy 2/RS. He stabilised the front line and deployed Bren gun carriers and Armoured Cars and Medium Machine Gun sections from No. 1 Coy HKVDC along Castle Peak Road to prevent any Japanese exploitation southwards. That evening the decision was made to withdraw the Mainland Brigade and supporting artillery back to the Island. 

One the Island the Royal Scots were re-organised and re-equipped. 'B' and 'C' Coy were placed under the command of Major Stamford Burn and 'A' and 'D' Coy were placed under the command of Major James Pirie. In their new positions on the Island, 2/Lt Baird recalled CSM Matheson calling him aside, and saying something had happened to Major Burn. Major Burn had taken his own life with his service revolver, no doubt blaming himself for the disorder on the left flank, and his inability to control the situation at the World Pencil Factory. 
"Matheson led me to where Major Burns had made his Headquarters on a flat bit of ground running in from the road, which had a few trees. With the aid of matches we found a torch by Major Burns’ side.  He was leaning against a tree in a sitting position with his legs astride and his arms hanging by his sides. On closer inspection, I saw that there was blood at the side of his head and there was no doubt that he was dead. His revolver was by his side near his right hand.  On his lap was a closed envelope addressed presumably to his wife. I took the letter and sent it back with a note to Colonel White. A while later Major Walker, commander of HQ Company arrived with a medical Officer. Major Burns’ body was put on a truck and went back with the MO. Major Walker informed me that he was replacing Major Burns, and to get as much sleep as we could that night." (Source: Dad's Story courtesy Catherine Williams) 
The next morning,,14th December, Lt-Col White and Captain Cuthbertson arrived at 'B' Coy's position, near the White House, on Tai Hang Road.
"CSM. Matheson and I were called to join them. We were questioned on the events before and after Major Burns had taken his sad determination. They speculated on the reasons he could have had, but reached no conclusion. Finally Colonel White said to us "keep your mouths closed about this, Major Burns was killed in action, do you understand?" I seemed to have looked very surprised as I saw Captain Cuthbertson who was standing behind and a little to the side of the Colonel, nod at me, so I answered together with Matheson "yes sir."" (Source: Dad's Story courtesy Catherine Williams) 
The intention was presumably to avoid any negative effect on the morale of the troops. I wonder whether Mrs Burn ever got the letter. If she had, it would have been late in 1945 after liberation. A funeral service was conducted for Major Burn by The Rev. Gordon Bennett, the Padre, on Thursday 14th December.

The rifle companies (A, B, C and D) were placed under the command of Lieutenants who were given promotion to Temporary Captain. The rifle companies were reinforced by personnel from HQ Coy including bandsmen, drivers and what the Army calls odds and sods. Douglas Baird was moved to 'C' Coy under Temporary Captain Stancer. On 15th December the battalion handed over the pillboxes on the north shore, where they had been deployed after returning to Hong Kong Island, to 5/7th Rajputs. 2/RS Bn HQ moved to Wan Chai Gap. Douglas Baird and Frank Stancer established their Coy HQ at a house called Rookery Nook  (No. 546 The Peak) on Middle Gap Road. The name is still used today for the house that occupies the site.

The Japanese landed on the Island during the night of 18th/19th December. By 1000 hours on Friday morning, they had captured Wong Nai Chung (WNC) Gap. They held the police station on top of a knoll at the centre of the gap. West Brigade HQ had been put out of action. Brigadier Lawson lay dead outside his bunker. 'A' Coy, 2/RS were sent out to try and relieve West Brigade HQ, and extricate the Brigadier and his staff. No. 8 Platoon, 'A' Coy advanced up Wong Nai Chung Gap Road, whilst No. 7 Platoon, 'A' Coy proceeded up Blue Pool Road in the valley to the left. The company had heavy casualties and although they got close to West Brigade they were forced to retire. Later that day (19th December) the whole battalion was ordered to advance to WNC Gap and recapture Jardine's Lookout. 

The route that was taken by 'A' Coy 2/RS on 19th Dec (Source: National Archives)
As part of the battalion attack, 2/Lt Baird, now serving with 'C' Coy, set off from Wan Chai Gap in the afternoon of Friday 19th December.  The corporals in charge of sections had been supplied with Tommy Guns. The company proceeded, with 2/Lt Baird leading the way along Black's Link to Middle Gap, and then down to Stubbs Road, and the petrol station at the junction of Stubbs Road and Tai Hang Road. Captain Stancer decided to take two platoons up WNC Gap Road, and ordered 2/Lt Baird to take a platoon along Tai Hang Road, and then up Blue Pool Road towards the gap. It was the same route that 'A' Coy had taken that morning, and where they had incurred such heavy casualties.  

The route that was taken (red line) by 'C' Coy on 19th Dec (Source: Govt Maps Office annotations by the writer)
"It was getting dark when we started climbing the hill. We hadn’t got very far when we reached Wong Nai Chung Gap Road. I halted the platoon and crept forward with a Corporal to inspect the road more closely. Stancers group had been held up further down the road (WNC Gap Road) by machine gun fire. In front of me was one of the Bren carriers. I told the Corporal to wait for me while I crawled behind the Bren carrier. I mounted it from the back and got inside it. There were three bodies on the floor. One was that of Captain Slater-Brown, a Sergeant and a Lance Corporal. I took each of their identity discs. Darkness had set in by the time I got out of the carrier and returned to the Corporal and platoon. I gave Sgt Vine instructions to stay where they were, while I made my way back along the lower side of the road to where Stancer’s group was. Stancer had received no further orders so had decided to stay where he was for the night (19/20th).  My platoon being more advanced, I agreed to send a patrol as far as they could get to Wong Nai Chung Gap. When I got back to where I had left the platoon, I ordered Corporal Gary with three men of his section to set out on patrol skirting the road to Wong Nai Chung Gap. They returned sooner than expected. Corporal Gary informed me that they hadn’t come across anybody and had reached the small police station there in the Gap and found nobody there so had returned. Early next morning before daylight I reached Stancer and informed him about the patrol. Stancer decided to move his group to where I had my platoon, as it was a more forward position and offered better cover." 
(Source: Dad's Story courtesy Catherine Williams)  
The police station had been seized by the gunners from the Hong Kong Singapore Royal Artillery (HKSRA) fighting as infantry during the night 19/20th, but it had only been held for a few hours. The Japanese with more than four battalions at WNC Gap were able to send in reinforcements and recapture the knoll. It rained during the night, and the next morning 'C' Coy was subjected to a heavy mortar barrage. Captain Stancer was injured in the head by shrapnel and helped back to Tai Hang Road by his runner, and from there, to hospital. When his runner returned, he brought a message from the adjutant to keep 'C' Coy in position while 'B' Coy mounted an attack on Jardine's Lookout. The mortar barrage continued throughout the 20th December. Baird could see the location of the enemy mortar. He sent a message back to Bn HQ asking for a mortar to be sent up so that they could put the Japanese position out of action. They were told that there was no mortar ammunition. 
"At about 1600 hrs we noticed movement in front of us in the undergrowth. Visibility was poor and we had to be careful as 'B' Company could be somewhere out there, but much to the right of us. I gave an order that no firing was to be done without orders, unless we were sure that it was the enemy. The movement came rapidly closer with shouts in English not to fire, soon men from 'B' Company appeared in front of us. They were retreating from their attempted attack on Jardine's lookout. We saw that many were wounded. Amongst them was Dick Stanton who came through holding his stomach with both hands. He was held up from his armpits and practically dragged by a couple of his men. He died in Bowen Road Hospital the next day. The remainder of 'B' Company who were fit, were distributed amongst the platoons of 'C' Company." (Source: Dad's Story courtesy Catherine Williams) 
The next morning, 21st December, 'B' and 'C' Coy's combined positions were again subjected to a mortar barrage. Captain Cuthbert, instructed that another attempt would be made to dislodge Japanese troops from Jardine's Lookout. 2/Lt Baird informed his platoons and gave the order to advance.
"I took the lead working my way up hill through thick undergrowth.  I hadn’t got very far when I saw something move not more than thirty yards in front of me. I managed to see a head and a Japanese helmet, but he saw me first. A burst of machinegun rattled off instantly. I fell backwards and felt a sharp pain on my left leg and left hand. Fortunately, on falling backwards I was out of sight of the Jap who had fired. Two bullets had gone through my leg just below the knee, smashing the backbone of the leg and severing the main artery.  With the help of my runner, Private Ramsay, I got rid of my haversack and crawled down to the road. Evidently the Japs had started an attack on us at the same time as we decided to climb the hill. I was bleeding profusely; my trousers soon became soaked in blood. On reaching the road, Ramsay with the help of Sgt Vine who was coming at the rear of the Company applied a tourniquet with a rifle pull-through above my knee to try and stop the flow of blood." (Source: Dad's Story courtesy Catherine Williams) 
On reaching the road he was put in a truck and taken to Bowen Road Military Hospital. He was left on a stretcher outside the operating theatre in a row consisting of a number of other badly wounded soldiers on stretchers.  Those that were likely to survive were operated on first. Douglas Baird had lost so much blood, and his pulse was so weak that he was almost given up for dead. It was only because Major Bowie, RAMC, heard him talking that he reached the operating table. He recovered from the operation and was fully conscious by Christmas Day when Hong Kong surrendered. He remained in hospital until April 1942 when he was released and sent to Sham Shui Po Prisoner of War Camp. Later he was moved to Argyle Street Camp. 

In September 1942, he boarded the Japanese freighter the Lisbon Maru together with some 1,800 British prisoners of war who were being transported to Japan to work as slave labourers in Japanese mines, docks and factories. The ship was armed fore and aft, and had no markings to indicate that it was carrying POWs. The ship was sunk by an American submarine, some eight hundred POWs lost their lives. Douglas Baird was one of the lucky ones. He survived the sinking and the subsequent brutal incarceration in Japan. Following liberation in September 1945, Douglas returned to England. He met the girl, Ann Mary Roddam Shield, that he had left behind when he was posted to Hong Kong in 1941. They had met briefly before he sailed for Hong Kong, and they renewed their relationship when he got back. They married in March 1946. The photo below shows Douglas in the uniform of a Captain in the Royal Scots at his wedding.

The wedding in March 1946
Douglas and his new wife sailed for Santiago de Chile in June 1946, some six years after he had left home to go to war. He and Ann had a son and two daughters. Ann passed away in 1989, and Douglas passed away in 2011 at the grand old age of ninety-four. His diary provides a fascinating account of the Battle for Hong Kong through the eyes of a young officer in the Royal Scots, who was always in the thick of the action. He survived the battle, he survived his gunshot wounds, he survived the brutal incarceration in both Hong Kong and Japan, and he survived the tragic sinking of the Lisbon Maru. A remarkable man, who did his duty, served his country, led his men in battle and made it home.


I am very grateful to Douglas Baird's daughter Catherine Williams for her help with this story, and for letting me have access to her father's diary Dad's Story. It had been written in a series of exercise books and bits of paper. It was painstakingly typed up by Catherine, and a small number were printed and distributed to members of the family to preserve her father's memories.

(1)  National Archives (CAB 44/175)
(2)  National Archives (CAB 44/175)
(3)  Augustus Muir in The First of Foot - The History of the Royal Scots stated it was No 10 platoon.