Friday 21 February 2020

Robert Grindley Southerton - Stanley Internment Camp

This is the poignant story of a family who lived in Shanghai before the war. A husband, wife, and two children who became separated from each other by the outbreak of war. The husband, Robert Grindley Southerton, was interned in Hong Kong, the wife and son were incarcerated in Manila, and the eldest daughter was alone at the family home in Shanghai. For several months none of them knew where the others were, or even whether they were still alive. Reading their private letters I can see that they were a very loving and close family. At the time Robert Southerton was fifty-years-old, he had been a teacher most of his adult life. After graduating from Chester College, he came out to Hong Kong in 1912 at the age of twenty-one. He taught at the Diocesan Boys School (DBS) in Kowloon. He married Edith Ethel (known as Edie) nee Witchell in 1917. In the wedding photo below, he is in uniform and so I assume during WW1 he joined the HKVDC (the Volunteers).

Robert Southerton (Sr) and Edie at their wedding in 1917  (Lorna Loveland)
The wedding took place on 6 November at St John's Cathedral in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Telegraph for 6 November reports on the well-attended wedding. The bride's father, Samuel Job Witchell, (known as Job), was the Manager of the well-known King Edward Hotel. Job Witchell had first come to Hong Kong in 1882 and had served with the Hong Kong Police Force. In 1897 he was an Inspector and at that time institutional corruption was widespread in the police force. An investigation was carried out and Job Witchell was sentenced to 6-month's imprisonment. I suspect he may have been something of a 'fall guy' as there were many others who got away lightly, or entirely, because of insufficient evidence. After release, Job became Manager of the brick and tile works at Deep Water Bay  (Brick Hill). In 1915 he took up his role at the King Edward Hotel, considered to be one of the best hotels in Hong Kong. Job died in 1925, in Hong Kong, at the age of sixty-seven, after having suffered from cancer. Despite the earlier stain on his character, he was always well regarded and his funeral was very well-attended. In 1929, the King Edward Hotel was destroyed by a fire. Nine of the hotel guests lost their lives, two were killed by the fire and seven by jumping from the upper floors. Two of the hotel's employees were killed.

Job Witchell  (Source: Lorna Loveland)

Robert gave up teaching at DBS and briefly worked for British American Tobacco (BAT). The couple's first child, a daughter Muriel (known as Mully), was born in Hong Kong in 1919. In 1922, a second daughter Lilian May died in infancy aged three months. Robert went back to teaching, firstly in Tsingtao, and then in Shanghai. A son, also named Robert Grindley Southerton, was born in Shanghai in 1926. Robert Southerton (Snr) taught  English, Maths and Sports and co-authored a book on maths. By 1941 he was the headmaster of the Shanghai Municipal Council (SMC) Polytechnic School (shown in the photograph below).

SMC Polytechnic Public School 
In July 1941, he and his his wife Edie, and their fifteen-year-old son Robert (known as Bob)  took a long vacation in Australia. They returned from Australia on the MV Neptuna which arrived at Hong Kong in November 1941. The family sailed from Hong Kong on the SS Yu Sang expecting to be back in Shanghai and to be reunited with their twenty-two-year-old daughter Muriel (Mully) by early December. Muriel worked as a stenographer for Confederation Life, a Canadian insurance company.

In a letter to his family written in August 1945, Southerton wrote that they arrived on the Yu Sang at Woosung, Shanghai and anchored offshore. It was December 1941, it was the eve of battle and tensions were running high. The next morning, before they could disembark, the ship was ordered to return to Hong Kong without docking in Shanghai. The ship anchored in Hong Kong harbour, but Edie and Bob, and another female passenger, Mrs McCready, were not allowed to leave the ship and go ashore. Armed police were put aboard to ensure they did not disembark. I can only assume that the reason for such harsh treatment was that Hong Kong had been subject to a compulsory evacuation order in July 1940. A large number of women and children had been allowed to stay because the women were in essential services, like nursing or working as stenographers for the government. However many had avoided the evacuation by being absent during registration, or simply failing to show up, and some had falsely claimed they were in roles for which there was an exemption, for example, being a business proprietor. Some had illegally returned after evacuation.   There was no restriction on men leaving the ship. Robert Southerton (Snr) went ashore and stayed with his wife's family members (the Witchell family) in Hong Kong. Robert planned to get ashore and then get help from the authorities for his wife and son to be allowed off the ship. Robert and his brother-in-law, George Witchell, sought help from Duncan Sloss, the Vice-Chancellor of HK University, he appealed to the Governor, Sir Mark Young on Southerton's behalf. George's niece, May Witchell, worked for Duncan Sloss at HKU. The intervention was successful, and it was arranged that the police would bring certain papers to the ship on Sunday 7 December. Once the papers were signed, Edie and Bob would be allowed to disembark. On that Saturday night (6 December) Robert came aboard with George Witchell, his wife, Dolly, and their daughter Norah. They had dinner with Edie and Bob and then left the ship at around 11:30 p.m. thinking everything would be sorted the next day.

At about midnight Edie heard a commotion in the saloon. It transpired that the ship had received emergency orders to sail to Singapore early the following morning. Edie was still not allowed off the ship to contact her husband. It was only when she threatened to jump off the ship that the police became a bit more accommodating. They allowed Bob, accompanied by a  policeman,  to go ashore and to inform his father who was staying at George Witchell's house. However, nothing could be done in time, and so it was decided that there was no point in Robert staying on the Yu Sang and going to Singapore. He, therefore, disembarked with the intention of getting a passage to Shanghai as soon as possible. That morning, Sunday 7 December, the day before the war began, the Yu Sang, along with many other ships that had been anchored in Hong Kong Harbour sailed under orders for Singapore. 

The Yu Sang stopped at Manila in the Philippines and anchored in Manila Bay on 9 December, the day after the war began. The Philippines, Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong were all under attack. The Yu Sang was bombed by Japanese aircraft, and a ship anchored close-by was hit and set ablaze. After the air raid, the crew mutinied and insisted that the Captain take the ship to a safer location.  The ship moved away from Manila and anchored off Mariveles. She remained there for eleven days before returning to Manila to replenish food supplies. The passengers were taken off and moved by the Red Cross to Caloocan Golf Club in Manila. Edie and Bob were subsequently interned at Santo Tomas University. The campus became the largest civilian Internment Camp in Manila. The internees were mostly American (3,200) but there were a large number (900) of British and Commonwealth (mainly Canadian and Australian) internees. 

Santo Tomas University Internment Camp. (Source: Wikipedia)
Back in Hong Kong, after the Japanese captured Kowloon, Robert Southerton (Snr) was initially held at the Kowloon YMCA together other European civilians and the staff from the Kowloon Hospital.   He was later moved to the Kowloon Hotel Temporary Internment Centre. In late January, he was moved to Stanley Internment Camp. Those, like Robert, who lived in Shanghai were later repatriated back to Japanese controlled Shanghai. There were two repatriations, one in July and one in  December 1942. Robert returned to Shanghai in July 1942. On his ship, there were around twenty other internees. However, they were accommodated in cabins albeit sharing with five others. Robert Southerton (Snr) was reunited with his daughter Muriel in late September.

It was at about that time that he discovered his wife and son had not reached Singapore and instead had been interned in the Philippines. Edie and Bob were repatriated from Manila to Shanghai in September 1942. They were put aboard the Maya Maru, a former cargo ship which had been put to use as a trooper. Edie and Bob, together with about thirty other internees, were accommodated on platforms in the hold. The hold was also carrying army horses. The internees were allowed out on the deck during the day but at night they were confined to the hold which was infested with rats, cockroaches and other vermin. Edie had the unpleasant experience of being bitten by a rat. The ship took ten days to reach Shanghai and during that time some of the horses died from the heat and were left to rot in the hold.

The family were at last reunited. At first, British, American and Dutch civilians living in Shanghai were not interned. However, in February 1943, the Japanese decided to intern civilians from these countries. There were several different internment camps in and around Shanghai. The family were interned at Yu Yuen Road Camp from February 1943 until April 1945. In April 1945 they were moved to Yangtzepoo Camp until liberation in August/September 1945. Yu Yuen Road Camp held a large number of Shanghai Municipal Council employees. At Yangtzepoo Camp, Robert Southerton (Snr) was elected as Deputy Head of the internment camp. The family were repatriated to the UK after the war. Robert (Snr) weighed 190 pounds when he left Australia on the Neptuna in 1941, but by release in August 1945, he weighed only 138 pounds. The privations of life in Japanese internment camps, the diseases, the shortage of medicines and the lack of adequate food took its toll on their health. Robert Southerton died in February 1948 aged only fifty-six after suffering a heart attack. Edith died the following year in November 1949, having suffered a stroke,  she was only fifty-three.

The MV Neptuna on which the Robert, Edie and Bob took passage from Australia to Hong Kong was sunk during the Japanese air raid on Darwin in February 1942. She was unloading armaments when she was hit by bombs in the engine room and in the main saloon. Some of the ordnance ignited causing a massive explosion. Forty-five men were killed. The Maya Maru was sunk by an American submarine in July 1944. The Yu Sang was requisitioned by the US Navy, but was bombed and exploded in Manila Bay. Shanghai, once known as 'the Paris of the East', did not regain its former opulence in the immediate post-war period. After the Japanese capitulation, civil war returned to  China eventually leading to the defeat of the KMT by the communist forces.

After first writing this blog, with very little information other than a letter written by RGS (Snr) held at the Imperial War Museum, I was contacted by Lorna Loveland, the daughter of Robert (Bob) Grindley Southerton (Jnr). She had come across my blog whilst researching on the internet and I am indebted to her for the photographs and updated information on the family. Edie's niece, May Witchell, was in Stanley Camp with her married sister Maude and her Aunt (Dolly), her Uncle (George) and her cousin (Norah). May Witchell later married Colonel Lindsay Ride who set up the British Army Aid Group (BAAG) in Free China after having escaped from Sham Shui Po prisoner of war camp.

Photo Gallery:

RGS (Snr) (Source Lorna Loveland)

Edie (Source: Lorna)

Robert Grindley Southerton (Jnr) (Source: Lorna)

Muriel (Mully) Southerton (Source: Lorna)
The sinking of the MV Neptuna (Source: Wikipedia)

King Edward Hotel (1904-1929) (Source: Wikipedia) 

Lorna Loveland for photographs and private letters
Log Book of Internees Stanley Camp (Imperial War Museum)
Frank Fisher's diary (Imperial War Museum)
Captives of Empire by Greg Leck
Letter from R. G. Southerton (Snr) dated 26 Aug 1945 (IWM Docs. 13452) (for information about Job Mitchell's trial and the hotel fire)



Saturday 8 February 2020

965 Defence Battery, Royal Artillery in the Battle for Hong Kong

965 Defence Battery (965 DB) was an independent mobile battery primarily equipped with 18-pdr field guns and 2-pdr anti-tank guns. Its main role was beach defence in tandem with the beach defence pillboxes. The battery also had responsibility for the three guns located at Belchers Fort. The commanding officer was Major Basil Forrester. There were a total of four officers and 144 men including British and Indian Other Ranks (BORs and IORs). Lt Challoner appears to have been assigned from HKSRA to 965 DB.

British 18-pdr in France in 1940 (Wikipedia)
The 18-pdr field gun was the standard British artillery piece in WW1. It was known as the 'infantry killer'. The Germans used howitzers, which, with their higher trajectory could be fired from cover ie on the reverse of a hill. The howitzers were known as 'gun and bunker busters' and were more effective in trench warfare. The 18-pdr guns were mostly equipped with anti-personnel (AP) shells. The fuse  could be set to a maximum delay of 22 seconds allowing it to explode in the air with its mass of musket type balls being dispersed over a wide area cutting down infantry formations. The 18-pdrs were used in this capacity in the Battle for Hong Kong. In areas where the Japanse infantry were advancing (for example the ridge between Bridge Hill-Notting Hill and Sugar Loaf-the Twins one can still pick up many of these shot balls fired by 18-pdrs from 965 DB at Stanley. 

Balls from 18-pdr AP shells fired by 965 Defence Battery 

The infantry was supported by the Hong Kong Singapore Royal Artillery (HKSRA). They were equipped with 3.7-inch, 4.5-inch and 6-inch howitzers. They were referred to as the mobile artillery but, in fact, their guns were mostly located in pre-prepared battery positions and not moved around.  On the 19 December 1941, East Group Royal Artillery lost most of its howitzers in the eastern sector because of the lack of mule transport for the 3.7-inch howitzers and lack of towing trucks for the larger guns. On 19 December, following the Japanese landings on the night of 18 December, only one gun, a 3.7-inch from Tai Tam Fork Battery, was successfully brought back to Stanley.  
   L/Bdr Albert Shepherd, was a member of 965 DB. In his interview (IWM sound tape) he talks about the battle very briefly. He mentions being sent to Shau Kei Wan (must have been Tai Koo) and then withdrawing after coming under British artillery fire which suggests it was just after the initial  Japanese landings.
We got an order to go up to Shau Kei Wan Dock Yard.  We were in a truck pulling the 2-pounder gun. We then came under shell fire from British guns. We left the 2-pounder which was useless anyway. 
Shepherd was dismissive of the 2-pdr describing it as a 'pea-shooter'. In fact, it was quite a good weapon to combat light armoured vehicles and it was more effective than the Boys anti-tank rifle which was used by the infantry in Hong Kong, but was later replaced in other theatres by the PIAT. The 2-pdr AT gun fired a 40mm (1.6-inch) shell with an effective range of up to 1,000 yards. It had a crew of 3 to 5 men and could be towed by a 15-cwt light truck. It was used very effectively in the battle for Stanley knocking out two Japanse light tanks attacking the village from the Beach Road. 

2-pdr anti tank gun (Wikipedia)
15-cwt truck (D-Day

The 18-pdr and 2-pdr guns used by 965 DB were fully mobile with dedicated towing trucks. They were frequently moved. The initial deployment was as follows (source: The Guns and Gunners of Hong Kong (Dennis Rollo):


Location                              Guns                              Fate

Belcher's Upper                   1x6-inch                        put out od action (25/12)
Belcher's Lower.                  2x4.7-inch                     put out of action (25/12)
Repulse Bay                         2x18-pdr                      One retained at Belchers
                                                                                  One to Stanley
Tai Tam Bay                         2x18-pdr                       To Stanley  
Stanley Bay                          2x18-pdr.                      To Braemar Beach 
Promontory                          1x2-pdr                          Lost at Stanley (24/12)
Island Bay (Skek-O)            1x2-pdr                          Lost at Stanley (24/12) 
Deep Water Bay                   1x2-pdr                         Lost at Stanley (24/12)
Tai Ho Wan (Telegraph Bay) 1x2-pdr                         Lost at Tai Koo Docks (18/12)

This suggests an initial six 18-pdrs and four 2-pdrs


Repulse Bay      One 18-pdr remained at Belchers, then moved to Wan Chai and destroyed.
                          One 18-pdr moved to Stanley and put out of action at Stanley View on 23/12

Tai Tam Bay          Two 18-pdr to Stanley on 19/12 and put out of action 24/25

Stanley Bay            Two 18-pdr to Braemar on 11/12 and destroyed there on 18/12 

Promontory            One 2-pdr to Stanley on 19/12 and destroyed 25/12

Island Bay              One 2-pdr to Stanley on 19/12 and destroyed 25/12

Deep Water Bay    One 2-pdr  to north shore (13/12)  then to Stanley (19/12). Lost 24/25.

Tai Ho Wan            One 2-pdr to Tai Koo docks area on 14/12 destroyed there on 18/19

The 965 Defence Battery war diary starts from 19 December and is very brief. However, from this and from the Royal Artillery war diary we can glean the following interim and other movements.


7 December: 965 DB occupied its Beach Defence positions

13 December: Belchers Battery was ordered to fire on lighters at Kowloon wharves. This was undertaken by the 6-inch gun in the upper battery. Fire was seen to be effective with a number of vessels sunk. Battery received some counterbattery fire starting fires in the western district.

14 December: Belchers Battery came under very heavy shelling. The lower Battery Observation Post (BOP) was destroyed and the two 4.7-inch guns were put out of action. 2/Lt Field, the battery commander, was wounded and Master Gunner Cooper was fatally wounded and died the following day. One IOR was killed and two wounded. With the battery badly damaged the remaining IORS were redeployed to serve as infantry. 

14 December: Four Mk1 18-pdr saluting guns were drawn from Ordnance and sent to Stanley. It is unclear whether they were put into action, but I think unlikely. 

15 December: One 2-Pdr was positioned at PB 56 near the China Fleet Club. One 18-Pdr was located near Belchers Battery.

16 December: One 2-pdr moved to a position near Hong Kong Club and one to near Tai Koo Dockyard. The 18-pdr near Belchers remained in position.  Six 12-pdr naval guns were drawn from RN Dockyard and passed to 965 DB to be used at various locations on the south shore in order to free up the 18-pdrs and 2-pdrs to do more mobile work on the north shore. The 12-pdrs never got into action due to technical difficulties with mountings and other difficulties. 

18 December: two 18-pdr beach defence guns from 965 DB situated at Braemar Beach were destroyed by accurate Japanse artillery fire after movement of the guns had been spotted.

19 December: one 18-pdr, under 2/Lt Challoner, in position north of Prison Officers Club covering Tai Tam Road in the vicinity of Erinville (Turtle Cove/Red Hill area) and Shek-O Road. He fired some rounds at the Government Rice Store on Shek-O Road. The remaining two 18-pdrs were at Stanley Fort.
One 2-pdr located at Stanley Police Station. One 2-pdr  located on Fort Road (Wong Ma Kok Road) near playing fields covering Stanley Bay. These guns were supported by their own Beach Defence Searchlights (BDSL). 

20 December: Brigadier Wallis ordered an 18-pdr to be sited at Stanley View at which point it could fire at the Repulse Bay Hotel garage and the hillside of Middle Spur. This gun was commanded by 2/Lt Phillips and was very effective in taking out Japanese mortar positions on Middle Spur. 

21 December: One 2-pdr moved to Island Road near Southcliff to meet reported advance by Japanese light tanks from Tai Tam Gap.
All three 18-pdrs withdrawn to Stanley Fort and two 18-pdrs under 2/Lt Challoner moved to a position covering Tweed Bay. Later one 18-pdr moved to Southcliffe to replace the 2-pdr
Two 18-pdrs under Captain Roberts to Stanley Fort by day. 
Two 2-pdrs withdrawn back to Police Station in Stanley Village

22 December: One of 2/Lt Phillips 18-pdr guns was lost at Stanley View. The gun had come under mortar fire and some of the ammunition was hit. Although man-handled back to a safe position it was too badly damaged and had to be abandoned.  That left two 18-pdrs at Stanley and one at Belchers.

23 December: 2/Lt Challoner and one 18-pdr moved to a position north of Prison Officers Club to cover Island Road near Erinville.

24 December: The two 18-pdrs were located at Tweed Bay by night. One 18-pdr north of Prison Officers Club by day. One 2-pdr located 500 yards east of Stanley Village covering Tai Tam Bay. One 2-pdr at Stanley Police Station covering Stanley Village Road and Beach Road. One 2-pdr covering Stanley Bay from Fort Road at the north-west corner of playing fields. Total of three 2-pounders remaining.

25 December (north shore): At 1300 hours the 18-pdr at Belchers was deployed near Wan Chai Market to support 1/Mx. One of its tasks was to fire at ARP tunnels which could have given the Japanese access to Kennedy Road from Mount Parish.

25 December (south shore): All 2-pdrs overrun. The gun at Stanley Police Station claimed two Japanese light tanks disabled on Beach Road. Efforts made to withdraw one 18-pdr from Tweed Bay.  Later the two 18-pdrs were trapped near the pumping station (on Fort Road) by heavy Japanese MG fire. 

Some of the above movements taken from 965 Defence Battery war diary and the Royal Artillery war diary are a bit confusing. It is not clear whether the four additional 18-pounders (saluting guns) were put into action. If not I estimate that by Christmas afternoon there were just two 18-pdrs left and it proved impossible to get these back to Stanley Fort. The saluting guns may have been in the fort but I suspect not used. The remaining 2-pdrs had been overrun at the village during the night 24/25.  From 24 December the Japanese owned the overlooking hills and could direct counterbattery fire on the guns if spotted either by sight or flash and as a result, the guns were being moved frequently.

 British officers and partial list of BORs from 965 Defence Battery

SurnameFirst NameRankDate of Death
RobertsWilliam JohnCaptainn/a
ChallonerRichard Harold2/Ltn/a
PhillipsEric Gladstone2/Lt25-Oct-42
BoyceSamuel L/Bdr2-Oct-42
Burnley FredBdr2-Oct-42
ClimoReginald Thomas Sgt25-Dec-41
HewittFrank EdwardGnr2-Oct-42
HewsonThomas JamesGnr2-Oct-42
HildredReginald JohnGnr2-Oct-42
InglisJohn L/Sgtn/a
MaceFrank EdwardGnr2-Oct-42
McCarthyGeorge EbertGnr24-Dec-41
OrrTerence NolanGnr2-Oct-42
RobertsAlfred HenryBdr2-Oct-42
ShirleyErnest FrancisBSM1-Oct-42
SpillerFrederick JohnGnr3-Jun-43
StaffordArthur JohnL/Bdr7-Nov-42
WardEric PhilipL/Bdr25-Dec-41
YeomanHerbert GeorgeGnr2-Oct-42
n/a  Not applicable
Main Source of list:  Tony Banham's