Friday 23 March 2018

Herbert Howell Beddow - killed at Leighton Hill in Hong Kong in December 1941

I first saw his name mentioned in the 1st Battalion Middlesex Regiment War Diary, referring to his death at Leighton Hill
"At about 1430 (16 December 1941) the whole of Leighton Hill was subjected to a very heavy bombardment by high velocity guns which succeeded in setting light to one block which burnt itself out completely, and every other house was hit, Bn HQ miraculously escaping with one casualty RSM Robert Challis. One civilian, a Mr Beddow was blown to bits." 
On top of Leighton Hill were four blocks of government buildings used to accommodate civil servants. To the south of Leighton Hill was Chinese Cemetery Ridge. The pre-war map below shows the four government blocks on Leighton Hill which overlooks Happy Valley Race Course. 

The photograph below shows Leighton Hill probably around 1919 before the building of the government blocks which were completed around 1921.

The photo below courtesy of Victor Li shows Happy Valley, Morrison Hill and Leighton Hill after the government apartment blocks had been built probably around 1922.
A view of Happy Valley, Morrison Hill and Leighton Hill (courtesy Victor Li)
So what was Herbert Beddow doing on Leighton Hill? Perhaps as a civil servant, he lived in one of the blocks but Leighton Hill had been taken over by the Army and the 1st Bn Mx had their battalion HQ positioned there. The Mx war diary describes him as being killed on 16 December although other sources, for example, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission indicate the date of death as 17 December. The Island was under heavy bombardment in the week between the military evacuation of Kowloon and the Japanese invasion of the Island on 18 December 1941. Was he assisting the military in some way, or did he live there, and, was he perhaps going to his apartment to collect personal effects. 

He first arrived in Hong Kong in August 1927. He appears on passenger manifests in 1932 and 1937 going on long leave to the UK. Government records show him as being a teacher employed by the Education Department. He had a BSc in Maths from the University of Wales. He had previously taught at the Central British School and King's College. By the time war broke out, he had joined the teaching staff at Queen's College, as Maths Master. At the time of his death, he was 43 years old having been born on 19 December 1898 in Llanelli, Wales. He does not appear to have ever been married. One reference suggested he was a member of HKVDC in the rank of BSM,  but he is not listed as such in 1941.

I can picture this, perhaps quiet and unassuming, Maths teacher  who was killed, as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but what really surprised me when I did a little research is that it turned out he was a Fighter Pilot in the Royal Flying Corps during WW1 and he saw service in 1917-1918 with No. 22 Squadron on the Western Front. He flew Bristol F2-B two-seater fighters, which were armed with a forward synchronised Vickers gun controlled by the Pilot, and a rear Lewis gun controlled by the Observer. What's more, it turned out he was an Ace and had been accredited with ten kills in the summer of 1918.

10 Kills

Bristol Fighter 
So not just the unassuming Maths teacher. Anybody who went up in those frail and flimsy fighters and engaged in aerial combat over the Western Front in WW1 - lacked nothing in terms of courage, and on top of that, he was an Ace with ten recorded kills............Never mind the square on the hypotenuse.


Victor Li for sharing a photograph of Happy Valley showing first-generation buildings on Leighton Hill

Geoff Moore for finding an extract referring to Herbert Beddow in Gwen Stokes "Queen's College 1862-1962.

Wednesday 14 March 2018

Massacre at Alexandra Hospital - British Military Hospital, Singapore (1942)

In a similar incident to that which occurred at St Stephen's College Temporary Hospital in Stanley, Hong Kong:  Japanese troops massacred a large number of patients and medical staff over a two day period from 14 to 15 February 1942. The hospital with a capacity for up to 1,000 patients was built in 1938 and opened in 1940. The new British Military Hospital was an upgrade to the previous main Military Hospital at Tanglin Barracks.

The Japanese were first seen approaching the hospital in the early afternoon on 14 February 1942. Ironically it was Valentines Day. The Japanese numbered approximately one hundred. The hospital was clearly marked with red crosses. The orderlies and medical staff had red cross brassards. A British RAMC officer went out to meet the approaching Japanese stating that it was a hospital. He was fired on by the approaching troops, but was able to get back inside the hospital unwounded. Soon after this the Japanese broke in and ran amok stabbing, beating and killing anybody in their path. As in Hong Kong, patients were bayoneted in their beds. It was an orgy of uncontrolled violence against wounded patients and non-combatant medical staff. At least fifty were killed and many more wounded. One patient was even killed on the operating table. The theatre staff who had surrendered with their hands held above their heads were butchered with bayonets.

A number of patients and orderlies were led out to the lawn, they were tied up and marched to some nearby out-houses. Those that could not march because of their wounds, were cut loose and killed. The rest were crammed into small rooms and given no food or water. There was no sanitation and no ventilation. Several died during the night. The next day the Japanese soldiers brought them out in small groups on the pretext of their being allowed to collect water, but instead, the Japanese systematically bayoneted them to death. Another one hundred patients and medical orderlies were killed in this gruesome way. Later that day on 15 February Singapore surrendered. 
British Military Hospital - Singapore

Some survived the killing by feigning death, others were simply lucky that their wounds were not fatal, and they lived to tell the tale. I watched a televised interview with one of the survivors, he like many of those that survived, even years later, never forgave the Japanese for such barbarous, inhumane and appalling acts of violence. It's a different world now but we should not forget what happened.