Tuesday 16 October 2018

Fortress Signal Coy - Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC) in the Battle for Hong Kong

The Fortress Signal Coy, HKVDC was mobilised on Monday, 8 December 1941. The unit consisted of two officers, a CSM and thirteen British Other Ranks (BORs) and approximately 100  Chinese linesmen. They were all staff of Hong Kong Telephone Company (HK Tel Co).

Major John Patrick Sherry (Formerly Manager HK Tel Co.)
Captain Walter Charles Clark (Formerly Assistant Manager HK Tel Co.)

CSM Robert Kirkwood

James McDonald Dalziel
Thomas Davis
Paul John Engelbrecht
Arthur Leslie Fisher
William James Geall
William George Griffin
Charles Hatt
Arthur Charles Jeffreys
Charles Francis Needham
Duncan Tollan
Ben William Simmons
Leslie Douglas Skinner

Robert Emmet Farrell

The European Engineers were all given the rank of sergeant, except Kirkwood who was given the rank of company sergeant major (CSM). The Chinese Inspectors were given the rank of Corporal and the rest of the linesmen were Privates. 
   Major Sherry reported to Lt-Col Eustace Levett, Chief Signals Officer as did Major Arthur Nathaniel Braude who commanded the HKVDC Signals. Lt-Col Levett was based in the Battle Box underneath the HQ Building Victoria Barracks. The Battle Box was completed in 1940. Captain Peter Gracey and Lt Cyril Bucke both Royal Corps of Signals were also based in the Battle Box.  
   Robert Farrell was Chief Engineer of Hong Kong Telephone.  After initial internment, he was able to secure his release on the grounds that he was a national of the  Irish Free State. He was also the Spanish Consul. In November 1942 he left for Macau with his Spanish wife and infant child. He was assisted by the British Consul John Reeves who helped him secure passage by junk to Free China, from where he returned to the UK. He served in the Army and was posted back to Hong Kong as a Major in 1945 to help with the repatriation of POWs.   
     We know quite a lot about Fortress Signal Coy because of the fascinating diary published by Arthur (Les) Fisher entitled I Will Remember (1996). 

Les Fisher recalls being provided with 12 rounds and a .38 revolver. A slightly less chunky handgun than the usual Webley .455. The Coy HQ was in the Exchange Building which had been the Head Office for Hong Kong Tel Co. The Exchange Building in Des Voeux Road was built in 1926 and demolished in 1977. In 1941, it accommodated the Lane Crawford Department Store and the building was also known as Lane Crawford House. In the basement, there was a popular Cafe known as the Cafe Wiseman (it had originally been established as Cafe Weissmann). Fisher was initially posted to the Kowloon Telephone Exchange. He was then moved to Aberdeen where his base was a commandeered cinema. At Aberdeen, the Signals detachment consisted of Sgt Ernest Edward ("Dodger") Green, RCS and three men from Royal Corps of Signals (RCS) and eight Canadian Signalmen under a Corporal and the eight Chinese linesmen under Sgt Fisher.
    The linesmen and engineers were continually trying to fix underground, and overground, telephone lines whilst under fire. Communication was almost exclusively by telephone - and when lines were broken they needed to be repaired urgently. On Sunday, 14 December  Les Fisher and the Aberdeen Detachment were relocated to a house on Bisney Road in Po Fu Lam. The house was on a knoll between Queen Mary Hospital (QMH) and the shoreline of Sandy Bay. Bisney Road ran between Pok Fu Lam Road and Victoria Road. Fisher describes entering the house and finding it fully furnished, with servants and a pet dog, but the owner had vacated. The house was in between the 9.2-inch battery at Fort Davis and the AA Battery near Waterfall Bay which were both firing, and being fired at. The next location was even more heavily shelled. They were sent to Quarry Bay on the North East Shore on the day the Japanese landed. Their job was to repair the main telephone cable running along the shoreline and fix the branch lines to the various pillboxes and alternative positions along the shore from Causeway Bay to Shau Kei Wan. After the Japanese landed Fisher was able to make his way across the divide and down to Repulse Bay Hotel. They were at the hotel when the Japanese arrived on 20 December and the siege of the hotel commenced. Fisher participated in the military evacuation of the hotel on the night of 22/23 December. He made it through to Stanley Prison where he remained until the surrender of the colony on 25 December 1941.
    Les Fisher was incarcerated in North Point Camp and later at Sham Shui Po Camp. After liberation, he continued to work for Hong Kong Telephone despite his weakened state. He was repatriated in mid-November 1945. Whereas most left by ship, and many on RN vessels, Fisher left by air. He was flown on a Dakota to Kunming. After spending a few days in Kunming they were flown to Calcutta.  From Calcutta, they flew on a BOAC Sunderland flying boat to Karachi. They then flew by Dakota to Baghdad, Cairo, Malta, Marseilles, and finally landing at Poole. Then by rail to Sheffield,  where he was reunited with his wife and daughter who he had not seen for five years since they were evacuated in July 1940. He returned to Hong Kong in 1946 and worked with HKT until retirement in 1954.


Wednesday 3 October 2018

S/Sgt Henry James Gordon Ross, Royal Army Medical Corps

There were so many unsung heroes who died during the Battle for Hong Kong and one of these was Staff Sergeant Henry James Gordon Ross, RAMC. He was born in June 1917, during one world war, and died during the next world war. He was aged twenty-six when he died in Japan on 15 May 1944. He had endured the sinking of the Lisbon Maru in October 1942, and the brutal incarceration at prisoner-of-war camps in Hong Kong, and in Kobe, Japan. 
A memorial in Yokohama
I'm only sorry that I know so little about him. He was born in London and baptised at the Church of the Holy Redeemer in Islington. His father shared the same first names. His father predeceased his mother, Clara. Ross's small estate of GBP321 went to his widowed mother. She probably only heard of his death after the war ended in 1945.
   The words on his memorial stone are very fitting. "He thought of others, never himself, gave his life helping his comrades." When the Japanese armed freighter Lisbon Maru sank after being torpedoed by an American submarine, Ross was characteristically helping others rather than trying to save his own life.  Here is a report by Surgeon Lt Charles Anthony Jackson, RN which speaks of S/St Ross's exemplary conduct. 
I climbed out of the forward hold [No. 1 Hold]. I found the Japanese had abandoned the ship. S/Sgt Ross, RAMC, reported that he had a number of injured and sick mustered on deck from the holds aft. Between us we managed to render first aid and reassured disabled men. I was myself picked up after about four hours together with S/Sgt Ross and such ailing men as we had been able to keep with us. Throughout this period and subsequently as the medical orderly in charge at Kobe Camp, S/Sgt Ross, RAMC, displayed great devotion to duty and courage.
He saved many lives and eased the suffering of others whilst at Kobe Camp. He is remembered by Captain Martin Weedon, 1/Mx, a POW at Kobe House Camp. 
He died of beri-beri on top of a stomach ulcer. Very sad as he has done more than anyone for the sick. I owe my life to him when I had diptheria. 
He was starved to death by the Japanese who provided insufficient food and medicine and forced their prisoners of war to carry out slave labour in docks, mines and factories. So many lives were lost needlessly to malnutrition. At such a young age he devoted himself to alleviating suffering in others.  For one so deserving, he never had the chance to marry, or know fatherhood,  and live his life. 

After the war, he was awarded a posthumous Mention in Despatches (MiD).