Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Group Captain Thomas Horry Commanding Officer RAF Kai Tak

Thomas Stanley Horry was born in Boston, Lincolnshire on 21 May 1898. He was the Commanding Officer of the RAF station at Kai Tak immediately before the start of the war. He was given a new assignment with RAF, Singapore and left Hong Kong on the ill-fated SS Ulysses, bound for Singapore by way of Manila. He handed over command of the RAF station in  Hong Kong to Wing Commander Humphrey (Ginger) Sullivan, he had a farewell function on Saturday and left for Singapore on Sunday 7 December. The next day Japan attacked Hong Kong, Malaya, Philippines and the US Fleet at Pearl Harbour and the Pacific War began.

Wing Commander Horry - third from right - Hong Kong 1941 (Source: IWM)
There is a reference to Horry in Major Munro's private papers held at the Imperial War Museum. John Monro was Brigade Major, Royal Artillery, based at the military HQ known as China Command or referred to as the Battle Box. On Saturday 6 December, Monro had gone to Kai Tak for a flying lesson. His instructor was Pilot Officer N.L. Baugh, RAF.
I thought it went rather well and was very disappointed with Baugh for not letting me go solo. After it got dark we went into the bar and met some of the CNAC pilots. They had about a dozen planes leaving for Nam Yeung that night. The first two Douglasses went off at about 7:15 and were expected back shortly after 9 pm. Baugh and I intended going out together to dine. First of all we went up to his mess for a wash. When we got there we found there was a flap in progress. A message had just been received from RAF Singapore putting them on a No. 1 state of readiness. "Horrid" Horry rang up Newman [GSO-1 at China Command] to find out if he had heard any further news, but was told that headquarters far from having had any fresh cause of alarm, were thinking of relaxing their precautions. There was an air of expectancy and excitement in the mess where I stayed to dinner as Baugh was now confined to barracks. As I went home after dinner everything seemed quiet and normal. There were the usual Saturday night crowds in the main streets and on the ferries. Hong Kong was illuminated as usual. This morning  [Sunday 7th December] when I went to the office, I found the situation had worsened. I don't really believe that anyone thinks that it will come to anything. We have had so many flaps and lived in a state of tension for so long that we have become blasé. We live only for the day when the rather annoying precautions that interfere with our private amusements are once more considered unnecessary. (IWM Doc. 17941)
Group Captain Horry was probably not sorry to be leaving Hong Kong. The RAF station only possessed five aircraft all of which were obsolete and were no match for Japanese aircraft. There had been rumours that a squadron of Buffalo Brewsters would be sent up from Singapore to augment the three RAF Vildebeests and two Walrus amphibians. Most of the RAF aircraft and several civil aircraft were destroyed during air raids on the first day of the war. The RAF aircraft played no part in the battle and their loss made no difference to the outcome of the battle. 
   One day out of Hong Kong, whilst Ulysses was on passage to Manila, Captain James Russell heard on the ship's radio that war had begun, and that Manila was already under attack. He ordered the ship to turn south and head for Singapore. She was spotted by Japanese aircraft and bombed and strafed on two different occasions. The ship reached Singapore and sailed on to Australia and through the Panama Canal and was later sunk by a U-Boat off the coast of South Carolina. Group Captain Horry disembarked at Singapore to take up his new assignment. I have not been able to discover what that was, or what became of him during the battle, except that he became a POW after the Fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942.
   In conducting research and trying to find out more about him I discovered that Thomas Horry had fought in WW1, and that in 1917, aged nineteen, he had obtained the Aviators Certificate issued by the Royal Aero Club, a prerequisite for Army Officers, or others, wanting to join the Royal Flying Corps. Further research confirmed that he had been an Ace and that he had been accredited with eight 'kills' in the last month of WW1. 

Fl Lt Thomas Horry 1917
He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in 1919. The citation reads:
An officer of exceptional courage and daring. In the face of driving rain and low clouds, he led his patrol into enemy territory in order to engage enemy troops and transport that were retiring. Reaching his objective he attacked the enemy with  vigour, causing heavy casualties. He has in all destroyed three enemy aircraft and driven down another, out of control, and has, in addition, taken a leading part in the destruction of six others.
He remained in the  Royal Air Force the successor to the Royal Flying Corps and was awarded the Air Force Cross (AFC) in 1928.
   But what of his personal life? I was not able to find out much except that he married at the age of thirty-seven to Lola Erben aged thirty-four, in March 1936.  It was her second marriage and as far as I could see there were no children. If Horry was a POW in Singapore his health would most likely have deteriorated and this may explain his early death. He died aged sixty-one in 1960. Lola lived on until 1991 when she passed away in Victoria, Australia aged ninety, thirty years after her husband had died. A man who had fought in two world wars, a WW1 Ace, the holder of the DFC and AFC, who had served in Hong Kong on the eve of battle and who had served in Singapore and survived the battle and the brutal incarceration that followed.