Monday 16 April 2018

Major John Johnstone ("JJ") Paterson

JJ Paterson was born in 1886 at St. Andrews, Edinburgh, Scotland. He was the oldest son of William Paterson (1844-1914), a partner in the trading company Jardine Matheson, which had commenced business on the China Coast in 1832 and later became known as the "Princely Hong." Hong being the name given to the large trading companies operating out of Canton and later Hong Kong. William Paterson was a descendant of William Jardine's sister Jean. William Paterson passed away in 1914. His son, JJ Paterson, served in the County of London (Westminster Dragoons), a Territorial Army unit, and in the Camel Corps during WW1. He had marched into Baghdad with General Allenby, had been promoted from Sergeant to Lt, and had been Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) six times.  After completing his military service, JJ joined Jardines in 1919. He married in 1926, aged thirty-nine, to Marjorie Hyland, aged twenty-nine, an American lady from California. The marriage took place in Jiangsu, China. 

By the early 1930's he had risen to become Managing Director, or Taipan, of Jardine Matheson. He was Chairman of Hongkong & Shanghai Banking Corporation on three occasions between 1932 and 1941.  Throughout the 1930s he served as Member of the Legislative Council (LEGCO), and from 1936, as a Member of the Executive Council (EXCO). 

JJ Paterson (Source: Wikipedia and "The Thistle and the Jade"
He had a large bungalow in Fan Ling from where he could enjoy his passion for shooting and for playing golf. On weekends he would host house parties. Emily Hahn, writing in China to Me (1944) describes one such house party. 
"Charles (Boxer) and I went out for a weekend to J.J. Paterson's place at Fan Ling. ... JJ is a famous taipan who had been in China all his life, and who preferred to live miles from town. ... He is a large red-faced man with a sense of humour well above the average. Once in a while, when his chosen mode of living all alone palled on him, he sent out invitations to everyone he liked, and had a real bang-up party."
In 1941, aged fifty-five, he commanded a special guard unit of the HKVDC whose war station was to defend the Hong Kong Electric power station at North Point. The unit was known as the Hughes Group or the Hughesliers after their founder A. W. Hughes. The unit recruited predominantly from members of the British business community who were over the combatant age limit of fifty-five. Many of them had seen service in WW1 and in the Boer War. The oldest of this unit to be killed was Private Sir Edward De Voeux who was killed in action aged seventy-seven. The defenders from the Hughes Group, together with a handful of Rajputs and the survivors of a mobile platoon from 1/Mx fought off units from two battalions of Japanese infantry that had landed in the North Point area on Thursday night 18th December. The garrison had been subjected to aerial bombing and point-blank artillery fire, but held out until the afternoon of Friday 19th December 1941. JJ was held initially in North Point Camp and then Argyle Street Camp and later Sham Shui Po Camp. He survived the brutal incarceration, and after the war, in 1947, he retired to Kenya. He passed away in Nairobi in 1971, and his wife Marjorie passed away the following year. He received an MiD for his actions at North Point. His seventh MiD.

Colonel Shoji commanding 230th Infantry Regiment landed to the east of North Point. His troops picketed the power station and moved inland establishing an HQ at what Shoji described as a large lake, but which was, in fact, Braemar Reservoir. The site is now occupied by Braemar Hill Mansions and is close to the Chinese International School. From here, during the early hours of Friday 19th,  Shoji's two battalions set out along Sir Cecil's Ride for Wong Nai Chung Gap ......and a date with destiny.

North Point (with Braemar Reservoir top right) 

Artillery fire directed at the HKE power station at point blank range

The HKE power station at North Point.


Sunday 15 April 2018

Lt-Col Eustace Levett, Chief Signals Officer - China Command

Eustace Oliver Levett was born 6 June 1893 near Thetford in Norfolk. His family later moved to Sussex. He joined the Territorial Army at the age of seventeen in 1910. In 1913, he transferred to the Regular Army serving as a Private with the Army Ordnance Corps (AOC). On the outbreak of WW1 he was posted to France. He transferred from AOC to the infantry serving with the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards. In 1917, he was selected to undertake officer training. After having been commissioned as a subaltern, he was posted to the Royal Sussex Regiment, and returned to the Western Front. He was taken prisoner in March 1918, and was incarcerated until the Armistice in November 1918. He remained in the Army after WW1 serving with the British Army of Occupation on the Rhine. He transferred to the Royal Corps of Signals (RCS) when it was established in 1920. The Royal Corps of Signals can trace its origins back to 1870 when a Telegraph Troop, known as 'C' Troop, was formed as part of the Royal Engineers. They were responsible for communications by telegraph, visual signalling and despatch riding, initially by horse and later by motorcycle.

Dispatch Rider
Laying field telephone cable
 Field Telephone Exchange from No. 1 Coy HKVDC HQ at Taitam Bungalow
(Courtesy: Dave Willott)
Levett served in India from 1924 until 1929, after which he returned to Britain.  He was posted to Hong Kong in 1937, and in 1940 he was promoted to Chief Signals Officer, China Command. In this capacity, during the fighting in December 1941, he served with Major-General Maltby and other General Staff Officers (GSOs) in the deep underground bunker that was known as the battle box.

He married twice. Firstly, in 1919, to Bertha Winifred Lockwood (1894-1962) who predeceased him, and secondly in 1966, to Hilda Mona Worthington Newton (1903-1994). Eustace and Bertha had two sons one born in 1926, and the other born in 1935. Bertha and her youngest son, six-year-old John Kay Levett, were evacuated from Hong Kong to Australia in July 1940.

Levett was awarded the OBE (Military) in 1945. He retired from the Army in 1946, aged 53, after thirty years service. He had served in both world wars and had been a prisoner of war in each. After retiring from military service he then became a Bursar at a school in Eastbourne. He retired aged 65 in 1958. He passed away, aged 79,  in Eastbourne in 1972. He was recommended for the OBE by Major-General Maltby. Whose citation was as follows:
"Outstanding ability in organising and controlling the Royal Corps of Signals during a very tense period. Damage caused by enemy shell fire, mortars and air bombardment was severe and incessant yet repairs were always carried out and no call made on the Corps was ever disregarded or unaccomplished. He was always cool, cheerful and prepared to undertake  at short notice any demand upon him. His personal example was an inspiration to his whole Corps."
His private war diary, and a type-written memoir, is held at the Imperial War Museum in London. The personal diary was compiled whilst he was a POW in Sham Shui Po and Argyle Street Camps. The cover is made from a khaki drill (KD) shirt. The diary and memoir were given, after his death, to his former comrade in arms, Lt-Col Montague Truscott, RCS, by his widow Mrs Hilda Mona Levett. The Truscott family must have passed it to the Imperial War Museum. The diary has a hand-drawn emblem of the symbol for Yin and Yang. Underneath the symbol he has written the following lines:
"And when the great scorer comes
To mark against your name
He cares not whether you won or lost
But how you played the game."
I viewed the official war diary at the Royal Signals Museum in Blandford Camp, Dorset.  I got the impression that Lt-Col  Levett was a popular officer, a sympathetic man who cared for his men and demonstrated strong leadership.

At the outbreak of war on 8th December 1941, the Royal Corps of Signals were comprised of 6 officers, 175 Other Ranks (ORs), augmented by 33 Canadian Signallers and 15 Volunteers and 96 civilian linesmen.

Chief Signals Officer:                   Lt-Col Eustace Levett

Hong Kong Signals Company

O.C. Company:                             Major Leonard Hayes
No. 1 Operating Section:              Lt Cyril Bucke
No. 2 Maintenance Section:         Lt Harry Spong
No. 3 Infantry Brigade Section:   Lt Charles Brown
No. 4 Section:                               Sgt. George Somerville
Area Signals Officer:                    Captain Peter Gracey

Total:       6  Officers, 175 ORs, and 96 civilian employees.

Kowloon Infantry Brigade Signals Section

OC Section:                                   Captain George Billings

Total:        1 Officer and 32 ORs (Canadian Signals)

Fortress Signals Coy - HKVDC

OC Company:                                 Major John Sherry
2 i/c                                                 Captain Walter Clark

Total:         2 Officers, 26 ORs

The Royal Corps of Signals had a very high casualty rate with more than 97 men either killed in action or died of wounds or died during incarceration.  A 54% death rate. The Canadian detachment lost 9 killed out of 33 All Ranks. A 27% death rate. The HKVDC (Signals Section) lost 6 men killed (a 21% death rate). The Hong Kong Signals Coy lost 50 men killed in the sinking of the Lisbon Maru.

Communications is the lifeblood in battle, without effective communications there is only chaos, confusion, and individual actions by units. Although there were some wireless communications, most communication was by telephone with cables usually laid in a ditch or a shallow trench. In battle conditions, the cable would be laid along the ground. The telephone cable was easily broken by artillery, mortar and aerial bombing. When this happened linesmen were sent out to repair the cables which often had to be done under fire. Without telephone-communications commanders had to revert to runners and dispatch riders, who were often killed before they could deliver a message.


Sunday 1 April 2018

Pillbox 315 - Gin Drinkers Line

Armed with directions from two FaceBook (FB) friends, Jeff Li and Alexander MacDonald, who are both military history enthusiasts, I set out to find and visit PB 315. The pillbox is situated on a knoll overlooking the Byewash Reservoir and close to the dilapidated ruin of an old colonial house.

1938 Revised Map showing PB 315 & PB 314
The Colonial House
The colonial house looks like a 1930's era building, it is situated beside Tai Po Road below Piper's Hill. It was once used as a family home for senior engineers or senior managers of the Water Supplies Dept, I think referred to at that time, in this area,  as Kowloon Water Works. The main reservoirs were built between 1910 (Kowloon Reservoir), 1931 (Byewash Reservoir) and 1937 (Shing Mun Reservoir). It was apparently occupied until 1970s/1980s. I have seen reference to the house at one stage being occupied by HK Police (Special Branch), but the decor inside is more consistent with family use. There is an outhouse which includes a garage and servants quarters.  

The front entrance  
Side view

The back door was open so I took a look inside. There was parquet flooring, a fireplace, and bathrooms with a 1970s style decor. The hill on which the house is built is sometimes referred to as Monkey Hill. This is an appropriate name because the whole area is home to a large numbers of monkeys, and no doubt they would have been a nuisance to the occupants.
Reception room 
The Pillbox (PB 315)
To reach the PB one has to proceed past the house, and up a path through what must have been the back garden to a knoll where the PB is located overlooking the reservoir below. The PB is approached by a concrete trench which leads to the entrance of a concrete tunnel or passageway which leads into the three-loophole pillbox with two gun compartments. 

 Pillbox 315
The concrete trench leading to the tunnel
One of the gun compartments and machine gun loophole
Passageway with storage compartments and a space for a water tank

Historian Rusty Tsoi advised that the tilted wall in the photograph above may be connected to use of a gas curtain. Rob Weir who is an expert on WW2 Fixed Defences in Hong Kong confirmed that he had long suspected that the PBs on the Mainland had gas curtains. I have also seen reference too gas curtains being used in ARP tunnels.

There are Japanese characters scratched on to the wall of the passageway. Rusty advised that they translate as follows. 

"Captured by xxx squad, 8927 Butai (38 Mountain Gun Battery), 38 Div"
(xxx means unidentifiable)

"Those from Aichi county, good luck on your fightings"

It is not clear who manned this PB, but probably it was2nd Bn Royal Scots ( 2/RS),  as it was near to their Battalion HQ at Filter Beds House. The Bn HQ occupied this position (Filter Beds) after withdrawing from a more forward position, at 6th milestone on Castle Peak Road, on Wednesday 10th December 1941, following the loss of the Shing Mun Redoubt on the night of 9th/10th December. There is no evidence off fighting in this vicinity and no battle damage to the PB. The area to the north was held by 'D' Coy 5/7 Rajput Regt, commanded by Captain  Newton. This Coy were in action on 10th and 11th December. The area to the northeast was held by 'D' Coy 2/14 Punjab Regt, commanded by Captain David Mathers. This Coy was in action on 11th Dec. On Thursday 11th December, two companies ('B' and 'C' Coy) from 2/RS were heavily engaged and both Coy commanders were killed in action. At some stage during the morning these two companies withdrew down Castle Peak Road, as far as the World Pencil Factory, at Lai Chi Kok. Although the resultant gap was plugged to some extent, the weakness exposed on the left flank of the Royal Scots sector,  led to a decision to accelerate the evacuation of the Mainland. The Royal Scots were ordered to break off at dusk and were evacuated to the Island from Kowloon City and the Vehicular Ferry at Yau Ma Tei. The crew of PB 315 would have withdrawn that afternoon/evening. The Japanese Artillery Regiment that captured the position,  probably on 12th December,  would have done so unopposed.