In 1938 he joined the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC), a Territorial Army unit based in the City of London. HAC records indicate that he joined 'B' Battery. In 1939, he is listed as serving with 11th (HAC) Regiment RHA. In October 1939 he was promoted to Lance Bombardier. His eldest brother, James Allanson, had already joined the Territorial Army some years earlier and initially served with a London based field artillery regiment, which later converted to an anti-tank role. During WW2, this regiment formed part of the 51st Highland Division, and James Allanson served in North Africa and Italy. Kenneth's brother, Harold Allanson, had been resident in Burma before the war. During the war, he served with Z Force in Burma, a special forces unit operating behind enemy lines, and providing intelligence to 14th Army HQ on Japanese forces, movements and logistics.
Kenneth was selected for officer training and was posted to 122 Officer Cadet Training Unit at Larkhill in December 1939 The course lasted some six months and in May 1940, at the age of twenty-eight, he was commissioned as a 2/Lt in the Royal Artillery. He was initially posted to 1st Reserve Field Regiment RA based at Ascot, then in June he was posted to the RA Depot at Woolwich before being posted to Hong Kong in July 1940 where he fought in the short, but brutal Battle for Hong Kong in December 1941.
|2/Lt Kenneth Allanson (Courtesy of Christopher Allanson)|
|Commissioned as a 2/Lt (London Gazette)|
|8th Coast Regiment, RA (Source: Major Templer's Diary Imperial War Museum)|
The Royal Navy had established minefields, consisting of both contact mines and remote-controlled mines, around the approaches to Hong Kong. Indicator loops had been laid on the seabed, which could detect the movement of enemy ships or submarines. This information could then be relayed to the coastal defence batteries, or to the mine control stations, and the intruding vessel could then be sunk by gunfire, or by remote-controlled mines.
|9.2-inch gun at Fort Davis (Source: Wikipedia)|
|Map of Hong Kong Island (Source: HK Govt. Maps Office)|
|Sketch Map of HK Island (Source: Writer)|
The infantry was supported by the mobile field artillery of the Hong Kong Singapore Royal Artillery (HKSRA), who were equipped with 3.7-inch, 4.5-inch and 6-inch howitzers. The 3.7-inch guns were transported by pack mules, and the larger guns were towed by Army trucks. There was some movement of guns, but most stayed in pre-prepared gun positions. The infantry was also supported by 965 Defence Battery which was equipped with six 18-pdr fields guns, and eight 2-pdr anti-tank guns. Their main role was beach defence in support of the pillboxes, manned by the Middlesex Regiment, which ringed the Island shoreline.
In order to alleviate the shortage of officers in the HKSRA, a number of officers from the two coastal defence regiments were assigned to the mobile artillery. Captain Kenneth Allanson (then listed as a Lieutenant) was posted from 8th Coast Regiment, RA to East Group, RA on 15 December 1941. East Group consisted of all the mobile howitzers in the eastern sector of the Island. Their HQ was at Tai Tam Gap alongside East Infantry Brigade HQ.
|Captain Allanson was posted to East Group, RA on 15 Dec 1941 (Source: National Archives)|
The landing was a very close threat to the Sai Wan Section which prepared to defend itself with small arms, and 2/Lt Allanson who joined on the 15 December from 8th Coast Regt, RA was in charge at Sai Wan at this time, and Captain Feilden arrived there at about 2100 hrs with reinforcements from Parker. (Source: War Diary Royal Artillery Island East Group - National Archives)On Thursday 18 December, the Japanese landed three infantry regiments (228th, 229th and 230th) on the north shore of Hong Kong Island. Each regiment utilised two of their three infantry battalions. Each battalion consisted of one thousand men. Artillery and other support troops followed the infantry. The infantry consisted of 6,000 men, and it is likely that during the night 18/19 December that 8,000 to 10,000 men were landed on the northeast shore between North Point and Shau Kei Wan. The shoreline in this sector was defended by three companies, 'A', 'C' and 'D' Coy, from 5th/7th Rajputs. 'C' Coy, Royal Rifles of Canada, was the nearest infantry to the Sai Wan Howitzer Section with their Coy HQ located at Lye Mun Gap close to Lye Mun Barracks. At North Point, there was a group of militia, known as the Hughes Group, defending the Hong Kong Electric power station. The British, Canadian and Indian troops defending this section of the north shore totalled around 700 men. They were outnumbered by the Japanese troops involved in the landings by more than ten to one. Lt-Col Cadogan-Rawlinson's Rajput battalion put up a good fight but was destroyed on the north shore that night.
The 6-inch howitzers of the 3rd Medium Battery were heavy weapons with a weight of 4.4 tons. They required a heavy (8-ton) Scammell Army truck to tow them in and out of their gun positions.
|6-inch Howitzer (Source: Royal Artillery Museum)|
|Scammell truck towing an 8-inch Howitzer (Source: Wikipedia)|
Captain Allanson's howitzer section was located below Sai Wan Hill, off Island Road in a location that was accessed by a small track known as Cemetery Road. On top of Sai Wan Hill, there was an AA section manned by 5th AA Battery, HKVDC. The AA section was equipped with two 3-inch anti-aircraft guns. The AA position was accessed by a road running through Lye Mun Barracks. On the night of the Japanese landings, there was a 3.7-inch howitzer positioned midway between the barracks and the AA position. The gun, commanded by Captain Bompas, RA, had been brought up from the Tai Tam Fork 3.7-inch Howitzer Section to fire at Japanese AOPs and mortar positions located across the narrows on Devil's Peak Peninsula.
|Sai Wan Howitzer Section (Source: Govt Maps Office - Annotations made by the writer)|
The war diary for East Group states that during the same evening, Major Duncan and Captain Allanson were sent to Wan Chai Gap to take over command of West Group HQ which had been destroyed earlier that day at WNC Gap. West Group still retained a number of howitzers in their sector of the Island, but their officers at Counter-Bombardment HQ and West Group HQ had all been killed.
On the evening of 19 December Major Duncan was ordered to go to Wan Chai Gap and to take over command of West Group RA, and he set off taking with him 2/Lt Allanson. (East Group War Diary)
On the night of 23/24 December, West Group HQ withdrew to Victoria Gap following a withdrawal by the infantry from Wan Chai Gap. The area around Victoria Gap was subject to heavy bombardment. Major John Munro, Brigade Major RA, recalls visiting West Group HQ during a truce in the morning of 25 December.
After considerable search I found West Group HQ in a culvert under Lugard Road. Crowe had been shelled out of three houses where he had established his HQ. (Diary of Major Monro held at Imperial War Museum)The Crown Colony capitulated in the early afternoon of 25 December 1941. The surrendered troops were corralled at various locations, but mostly around Victoria Barracks. A few days later they were incarcerated in POW camps at Sham Shui Po, Argyle Street and North Point. Captain Allanson may have initially entered Sham Shui Po Camp, but if so, a few months later, during April 1942, he was transferred to Argyle Street Camp, which became designated as an officer's camp.
Allanson is variously referred to as 2/Lt, Lt, and Captain. There is a reference to him acting as prosecution officer in the rank of Temporary Captain in mid-1941. He would have been a very suitable candidate for such a role given his legal background. He then appears to have reverted to his substantive rank on returning to his duties with 8th Coast Regiment. At some stage, he was promoted to the rank of Captain. MoD files (Forces-War-Records.co.uk) and Commonwealth War Graves Commission records (CWGC.org) all accord him the rank of Captain. He may have been promoted on transfer to 3rd Medium Battery where he took command of the Sai Wan 6-inch howitzer section, or on Joining Major Duncan in re-establishing West Group, RA. West Group HQ had been destroyed at Wong Nai Chung Gap on 19 December 1941. It is also possible that he was promoted to Captain during his incarceration in POW camps (Dec 1941 to September 1942). However, I suspect it was more likely to have been during the battle as he took on increasing responsibility.
|The freighter Lisbon Maru (Source: Wikipedia)|
During the morning of 1 October, whilst approximately one hundred miles southeast of Shanghai, the ship was torpedoed by an American submarine, the USS Grouper. The submarine commander had no way of knowing that the Japanese freighter was carrying British POWs. The submarine fired six torpedoes, the fourth of which hit the freighter in her stern near the propeller shaft. The ship started taking on water and developed a list, but the old freighter took 24 hours to sink. The POWs were battened down in the holds. The air became musty and difficult to breathe, and without access to sanitation facilities, the conditions soon deteriorated. Since the freighter was slowly sinking by the stern, the No. 3 Hold was taking in the most water. A four-man water pump was lowered into the hold, and Captain Allanson helped to operate the pump.
The Japanese escort vessels tried to tow the sinking ship but to no avail. By the morning of 2 October, it became obvious that the ship was going down, and would sink at any time. The Japanese soldiers had already been taken off, leaving a number of the crew and some armed guards. The Japanese were prepared to let the ship sink with the POWs trapped in the holds. When it became clear that the ship was going down, the men in No. 2 Hold managed to break out and release the covers on the two other holds. Many of the POWs were shot as they came out on the deck. Many jumped over the ship's side and started swimming away from the stricken vessel, but a number of these men were shot whilst in the water. It was only after Chinese fishermen, from nearby islands, had started picking up survivors that the Japanese did the same. Some 800 British POWs lost their lives, including Captain Allanson who was subsequently reported as missing, believed drowned. The No. 3 Hold, which had taken in so much water, had the highest number of casualties from drowning.
After the war, one of the survivors of the sinking, who had been in the same hold, visited Kenneth's widowed mother, Dora Maude Allanson, and told her that Kenneth had manned the pumps to the end. In helping to save others, he gave up his life. He was remembered by Battery Quartermaster Sergeant Charles Barman, HKSRA, who kept a diary, and who had been in Argyle Street Camp with Kenneth Allanson.
I heard yesterday that Lieut Allanson of the 8th Coast Regiment was one of the unfortunates to go down when the Lisbon Maru was sunk last year, he was an excellent officer. (Resist to the End (2009) Charles Barman).
|KEA visiting his sister in South Africa - Aug/Sept 1940 (Courtesy Christopher Allanson)|
|In happier times (Courtesy Christopher Allanson)|
The full story of the sinking can be read in Tony Banham's book The Sinking of the Lisbon Maru - Britain's Forgotten Wartime Tragedy (2006).
Royal Artillery Glossary:
Troop: Refers to a unit of 4 guns. A Field Regiment normally had three Batteries and each Battery had two Troops.
Section: Refers to a unit of fewer than 4 guns (usually 2 and therefore a half Troop). Sections were sometimes designated Left and Right Sections.