Saturday 2 May 2020

No. 1 Battery, HKVDC

The Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC) was mobilised following the declaration of a State of Emergency on Sunday 7 December 1941.  No. 1 Battery, HKVDC, was responsible for a battery of two 4-inch naval guns located on a hillside at Cape D’Aguilar on the south-eastern extremity of Hong Kong Island. The battery, known as D'Aguilar Battery, consisted of some 69 men and three officers. The senior ranks were as follows:

Captain George F. Rees, Commander Officer

Lt H.S. Jones, 2 i/c 

2/Lt Hugh G. Muir

Battery Sgt-Major John L. G. Oswald

Battery Quartermaster Sgt Michel J. Harkins

It was a coastal defence battery designed to engage enemy vessels rather than landward firing. The battery formed part of Eastern Fire Command along with other coastal defence batteries in the eastern sector of the Island, including Collinson (2 x 6-inch), Fort Bokhara (2 x 9.2-inch), Stanley (3 x 9.2-inch) and Chung Hom Kok (2 x 6-inch). Fort Bokhara was situated below and within a kilometre of D’Aguilar Battery. The large calibre 9.2-inch guns at Stanley and Bokhara were capable of traversing and firing inland. However, the bulk of the ammunition for the coastal defence batteries was armour piercing which was more suitable for the coastal defence role of firing at seaborne targets. There was insufficient anti-personnel (shrapnel) and high explosive (H.E.) ammunition for landward firing. 
   On Sunday 7 December, the battery personnel were ordered to report to HKVDC HQ at Garden Road. They were issued with rifles, ammunition and grenades. At 1700 hours they set off for their battery position in trucks.  It took an hour along the narrow roads to reach the battery at D’Aguilar. Equipment had to be man-handled to the battery position above Cape D'Aguilar Road. The next morning Monday 8 December, the war started. The battery personnel were mustered at 0800 hours and informed that war had started.

Battery Observation Post at Bokhara 9.2-inch Battery
The period from 8 December until 19 December was relatively uneventful for No. 1 Battery. Some Japanese vessels were spotted but they were well out of range. The nearby Bokhara Battery fired some rounds at Japanese vessels at extreme range. The guns at Bokhara were also used extensively for landward firing at Japanse troops on the Mainland. Generally, the Japanese Navy stayed well back because of the array of coastal defence batteries, contact and remote-controlled mines and the presence of British MTBs. 
   The D’Aguilar Battery manned by No. 1 Battery, HKVDC, also included a Fire Command Post and a Fortress Observation Post, manned by the regular Army, in addition to the two 4-inch gun emplacements and BOP manned by the Volunteers.

Battery Buildings at D'Aguilar 4-inch Battery
Possibly the Fortress Observation Post (FOP) at D'Aguilar Bty
During the night of Thursday 18 December, the Japanese landed, an estimated, 8,000 infantry and artillery on the northeast shore of the Island. The Japanese troops moved quickly inland, and by the mid-morning on Friday 19 December, there was a concern that troops and gun positions in the eastern sector of the Island may be cut off. Accordingly, a decision was made to withdraw all troops in the eastern sector to Stanley, and form a defensive perimeter in the hills around Stanley. Sgt Leslie Millington recalls that at 1000 hours they were ordered to put the guns out of action and withdraw.

At about 10 a.m., the Master-Gunner from the Fire Control Post below us came running up and gave orders to blow up our guns and retreat to Stanley Fort. … We marched most of the way and the chaps who had cars ran a shuttle service to and fro. When we arrived at Stanley Fort we were put to work digging trenches around the peninsula.

The trenches were on the south side of Stanley Fort and facing out to sea. The battery personnel manned these trenches at night and rested during daylight hours in Stanley Fort. The fort was subjected to aerial bombing and then artillery fire as the Japanese drew closer. The Japanese advanced on Stanley and the final, fierce battle for Stanley took place on 24/25 December. 
   On Wednesday 24 December, the battery personnel were moved from Stanley Fort to St Stephen's College, Stanley. They were to fight as infantry and man a support line.  Earlier that day Captain Rees took an advance party, consisting of a sergeant and four gunners down to the 1/Mx HQ at St Stephen’s Prep School. A regular officer showed them the positions that they were to occupy later that evening after nightfall. Their positions formed a second line of defence, or support line, between Stanley Village and the fort. The first line of defence ran across the peninsula from east to west with the police station at Stanley village being the centre of the line. The support line extended east-west across the grounds of St Stephens College.

Prison Officers Club - used as East Brigade HQ 
Sgt Harry Millington’s MG detachment was positioned on the right flank near the entrance to St Stephen's College on the Prison Road (Tung Tao Wan Road). His brother, Sgt Leslie Millington was positioned with his MG detachment some 100 metres to the left, closer to the college main building and the tennis courts. The remaining two detachments were spread out across the line of staff bungalows and Fort Road (Wong Ma Kok Road). Captain Rees established his HQ at one of the staff bungalows, possibly Bungalow ‘A’ since it was positioned at the centre of the line and had been vacated by Royal Rifles of Canada. They had used it briefly as Battalion HQ. 2/Lt Muir garrisoned Bungalow ‘C’ on the extreme left flank of the line.  The battle for Stanley Village began that night. The defenders on the support line could hear the cacophony of battle, artillery fire, machine-gun fire, grenade and mortar explosions as the Japanese using tanks and waves of infantry attacked the front line in Stanley Village. The front line was defended by No. 2 Coy, HKVDC, the Stanley Platoon, HKVDC, made up of prison officers many of whom were veterans of WW1. The Royal Artillery manned anti-tank guns and members of the Middlesex Regiment armed with Vickers machine guns manned a bungalow at the junction of the Prison Road and Fort Road. The senior officer in command was Major Forsyth commanding officer of No. 2 Coy, HKVDC. He was armed with a Tommy gun and positioned himself in the centre of the village. He was fatally wounded and carried into the police station. After fierce and close-quarter fighting the Japanese were able to break through on the flanks. The line broke and the survivors withdrew to the support line.  Sgt Leslie Millington and his brother Sgt Harry Millington heard the sound of running men coming along the Prison Road from the village.  These were followed by Japanese troops and Sgt Harry Millington opened fire at the Japanese on the road. Sgt Leslie Millington was soon in action as Japanese troops were seen advancing near the college tennis courts on which his detachment had a line of fire. The Japanese responded with machine-gun fire and mortar fire during which Gunner Eugene Yourieff was wounded by shrapnel from a mortar bomb. 
   The exchange of fire continued until around 0500 hours on Christmas Day. Japanese troops had infiltrated closer to Sgt Leslie Millington’s positions and were able to utilise an incendiary device (flame-thrower) which set fire to the machine gun and the nearby magazine area. With the Lewis gun now out of action, Millington gave orders to his men to withdraw to the right towards Sgt Harry Millington’s position on the Prison Road. When they regrouped after the withdrawal they found Gunner George Sloss was missing. It was later found that he had been captured.
   At dawn, a regular officer, from HQ at the Prison Officers Club, ordered Sgt Leslie Millington to go back to his previous position. By this time, they could hear Japanese at or near the main college building. The main building was being used as a Relief Military Hospital. The Japanese went in at dawn and in an unfettered rage, they killed a large number of patients and medical orderlies. Many of the patients were bayoneted as they lay in their beds. Two doctors were killed and European and Chinese nurses were raped and three of them were mutilated and killed. It was difficult for Millington to reoccupy his position. His detachment consisted of eight men armed only with rifles, and only one grenade between them. Their position was untenable on a level with the main college building. In the impending daylight, they would be easily seen by Japanese troops located in and around the main school building. Millington recalled their effort to reoccupy the position that they had manned the previous night.

I had to go, so with my chaps, I crept quietly up to the bank. … We peeped over the top onto the flat space, nobody was more surprised than we were to see about fifty Japanese sitting around having their chow. The grenade was thrown and, as I didn’t feel like leading a bayonet charge, we opened up a rapid rifle fire. The Japanese beat a hasty retreat to the other side of the flat area and began to lob grenades at us. They seemed to have an endless supply. We stayed like this, exchanging fire for about five minutes, and as I thought it was pretty hopeless I again ordered the lads to re-join Harry, which we did with the loss of another chap, Skinner.

In fact, Gunner Skinner was wounded but not killed. He was hospitalised but it is not clear where. He may have made his way back to the prison road and sought medical assistance at the Prison Hospital. St Stephens College Hospital was nearer but was occupied by Japanese troops. Sgt Leslie Millington re-joined his brother Sgt Harry Millington on the prison road. However, they were coming under sniper fire from the Annex one of the college buildings which overlooked the road.  They took shelter behind a bank on the road and returned fire. They lost two men from Sgt Harry Millington’s detachment, Gunner Sam Gerzo and Gunner Graham Lawson, during this exchange of fire.

Modified sketch map from Millington's Diary (IWM)
They decided to move back towards the prison. Sgt Harry Millington died whilst providing covering fire. Leslie Millington recalls bullets hitting the road behind him as he rushed towards the Prison Officer’s Club. The colony surrendered that afternoon. Those at the Prison Officer’s Club Building were notified of the surrender by either a dispatch rider or runner from Stanley Prison at around 1700 hours on 25 December.  They were ordered to leave their weapons and ammunition and walk down to Stanley Prison about 200 metres away. The volunteer and regular soldiers at the prison remained there until Saturday 27 December when they were taken to Stanley Fort to join the other surrendered military personnel from the Stanley area. On Monday 29 December they were marched from Stanley Fort through Tai Tam Gap to North Point where they started the three-and-half-year period of brutal incarceration. 
   In the course of the fighting at Stanley, the battery suffered 35 fatalities. A death rate of over 50% incurred within a 24-hour period.

Members of the Battery

Last NameFirst NameRankDate of Death
AlexanderWilliam LGnr24-Dec-41
AllenDouglas  GeoffreyGunner
BenuchLeonard  John Gunner
BlissArthur Sydney (Sonny)GNR25-Dec-41
ButlinStrathmore  TathamGnr25-Dec-41
Collins-TaylorDouglas HarleyL-Bdr25-Dec-41
Duffy Jocelyn TierneyGunner25-Dec-41
Engelbrecht Raymond JGunner
GerzoSamuel  DanielGunner25-Dec-41
GriffithsRonald  HannamGunner25-Dec-41
HarkinsMitchell JosephBQMS
HenningsenFrederick Forbes Gunner
HoLok Kee Gunner25-Dec-41
JohnsonLloyd  GeorgeGunner25-Dec-41
Johnson George EdwardSgt
JongeDe GillaesGunner
LanderJohn Gerard HeathGunner25-Dec-41
LawsonW  GrahamGunner25-Dec-41
LodgeCyril JohnGunner25-Dec-41
MackenzieNorman  HGunner
McCabeLawrence  HughGunner25-Dec-41
MillingtonLeslie CharlesSgt
MillingtonHenry  (Harry) JamesSgt25-Dec-41
MuirHugh Gordon2nd Lt25-Dec-41
NashRobert  CharlesGunner25-Dec-41
OswaldJohn Lee GuinnessBSM
PedersenKay  WGunner
PomeroyJohn  BernardGunner
ReesGeorge FrederickCaptWounded in action
RudrofWladyslaw PawelGunner25-Dec-41
Samuel  HerbertGunner25-Dec-41
SayersMax W Gunner25-Dec-41
SlossGeoff  DuncanGunner
SmithCharles  AGunner25-Dec-41
SmithJohn Reginald MartinGunner24-Dec-41
StoneGeoffrey  Paul L-Bdr25-Dec-41
SwanMalcolm McDonaldGunner
TseninEugene AlexesGunner
TuckerNorman FosterGunner
WalreeErik  VanGunner
WatsonRussell  A E Gunner
WellerFrederick Anthony ("Tony")Gunner
WyllieRoy LeslieGunner25-Dec-41
YourieffEugene  GGunner
Yung Yue Wang Gunner25-Dec-41

Millington's Diary held at IWM


  1. Glad someone is finding Dad's diary intetesting since Chris and I lodged it with the IWM. Skinner's experiences feature in the TV series "My Grandfather's war" featuring his grandson and Oscar winner Mark Rylance.

    1. The diary was
      very helpful and detailed. I had a small part in the documentary showing Sir Mark Rylance the batteries at Bokhara and D'Aguilar and the support line at St Stephen's College and helping to unfold the story of the battle.

    2. Thanks Phillip, your account really fills out another perspective on the fighting at Stanley, apart from my father's diary. We look forward to viewing Mark Rylance's story here in Australia tomorrow

  2. Many thanks,another detailed part of the jigsaw completed but what a terrible cost.

  3. Another interesting account. Shame not more of these events is not displayed in and around Stanley Village particularly in the old Police station area.

  4. Thank you for the interesting history of this house as we approach its 100th anniversary.