Tuesday 1 May 2018

Group Captain Thomas Horry Commanding Officer RAF Kai Tak

Thomas Stanley Thorpe Horry was born in Boston, Lincolnshire on 21 May 1898. He was the Commanding Officer of the RAF station at Kai Tak before the start of the Battle for Hong Kong. At about this time, 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. The RAF station consisted of seven officers and sixty men. Another RAF officer, a Japanese linguist, Alf Bennett, was based at HQ China Command located in the Battle Box. There had been plans for a squadron of Buffalo Brewsters to be sent from Singapore to augment the three RAF Vildebeests and two Walrus amphibians.  An officer had been sent from Singapore to help establish the fighter control room in preparation for this reinforcement. Most of the RAF aircraft and several civil aircraft were destroyed during the first air raids on the first day of the battle. The RAF aircraft played no part in the fighting, they never got off the ground and their loss made no difference to the outcome of the battle. 
   On the first 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 then through the Panama Canal and was later sunk by a U-Boat off the coast of South Carolina. I have always assumed that Group Captain Horry disembarked at Singapore to take up his new assignment. I have not been able to discover what that assignment was, or what became of him during the battle. It is not clear whether he became a POW after the Fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942 or whether he was able to get out of Singapore with other RAF personnel and aircraft to the Dutch East Indies. See further elaboration on this in the concluding paragraph below.
   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 from either marriage. Horry died at the early age of 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 the AFC, who had served in Hong Kong on the eve of battle and in the defence of Singapore during the battle.

The mystery referred to above is that we don't know what happened to Horry after leaving Hong Kong. Did he get off the Ulysses when it docked at Singapore. I would think so because he had his orders but there is a possibility that for whatever reason (for example orders rescinded or changed) he stayed aboard and continued to Australia ........... but I think this is unlikely. I had always previously assumed that he had disembarked at Singapore, taken up his new role, and been captured and interned as a POW. However this may not be the case. I am grateful to Ken Hornett for getting in touch with me and sharing some of his research. He found no record of Horry being a POW in Singapore and found a retirement notice for him posted in the London Gazette in November 1944. Horry must have been in the UK in 1944 and of ofcourse Singapore was not liberated until August/September 1945. My theory is that he left Singapore during the battle with evacuating RAF personnel and aircraft bound for Sumatra and later Java in the Dutch East Indies. From there he must have somehow managed to reach Australia or Ceylon before returning to the UK. Of course this is conjecture but it seems a plausible explanation. Ken Hornett advised that Horry and his wife Lola took passage on SS Corfu to Singapore in 1938, then continuing to Hong Kong to take up command of the RAF station at Kai Tak. It is likely that Lola would have been evacuated to Australia in July 1940 under the requirement of the Compulsory Evacuation order for British women and children in Hong Kong but there is no record of this. It is possible she left earlier at her own expense. She was not in Hong Kong during the battle in December 1941.  Tony Banham discovered that Lola remarried in Australia after Thomas Horry died.

The answers must be out there somewhere and as usual I would be grateful for any further information from readers as to what befell Thomas and Lola Horry, before,  during and after the Battle for Singapore and how he returned to UK after leaving Hong Kong on one of the last ships out.


Horry had a brother William Horry (1895-1939) and a sister, Norah Horry (dates unknown) married George Holland from Boston Lincolnshire in November 1915. Thomas and William Horry both boarded at Caistor Grammar School in Market Rasen, Lincolnshire. It is likely that before this they attended De Aston School also in Market Rasen. Thomas Horry married Lola Erban in March 1936  in Kensington, London. Her first husband was Leonard John Pomeray Tremlett who died in 1938. Thomas Horry died in Harrogate, Yorkshire in 1960. Lola was still living in Harrogate in 1961 but may have moved to Australia after her husband's death. She died in Victoria, Australia in 1991.

RAF Officer Cadre in Hong Kong
Commanding Officer:
Group Captain Thomas Horry (until 7/12/41)
Wing Commander Humphrey ('Ginger') Sullivan (assumed command 7/12/41)

HQ China Command (Intelligence Section):
Wing Commander Hubert Thomas ('Alf') Bennett

Squadron Leader Donald Hill
Flt. Lt Hector Bertram ('Dolly') Gray
Flying Officer Norman Lee ('Whimpey') Baugh
Pilot Officer   ('Junior') Crossley

Pilot Officer Fred ('Horse' or 'Colonel') Thomson

Special Duty - sent from Singapore to help set up fighter operations room:
Pilot Officer Francis Peter Hennessy

Tony Banham
Ken Hornett

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