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
Paul John Engelbrecht
Arthur Leslie Fisher
William James Geall
William George Griffin
Arthur Charles Jeffreys
Charles Francis Needham
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.